Gabon

Info

Capital

Libreville

Population

1,640,286 (July 2013 est.)

Climate

Equatorial

Currency

515.1 XAF = 1 USD (Dec. 2012 est.)

Important Cities

Port Gentil, Lambarene, Franceville

Area

267,667 sq.km.

People

Nationality

Gabonese

Major Peoples

Fang, Kota, Mitsogo, Punu

Religion

Christian 55-75%, Muslim less than 1%

Literacy

88.4%

Principal Language

Fang, Bateke, Myene, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi

Official Language

French

Politics

Head Of State

Ali Bongo Ondimba (since 2009)

Type of Government

Republic

Date of Independence

August 17, 1960

Major Exports

Timber, Petroleum, Manganese, Uranium, Crude Oil

Precolonial History

Hunter-gatherers inhabited Gabon during the Stone Age, and Bantu peoples gradually migrated to the area from northern Africa. The Mpongwe people arrived in the estuary region in the 11th century. The Fang people, known for their wooden reliquary figures, settled in the equatorial forests by the 19th century, and comprise Gabon’s largest ethnic group today. Portuguese merchant ships navigated to the coast in 1472. The country’s name derives from the Portuguese word gabão, a type of hooded cloak resembling the shape of the Como River estuary. The Dutch, English, and French engaged in the slave trade with local chieftains until the 1840s. In 1839, the French signed a treaty with the king of the Mpongwe, establishing a protectorate over the coast. French explorers in the latter half of the 19th century, including Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, ventured into the dense forests that cover more than three-fourths of the country’s surface, seeking the source of the Congo River. In 1910, Gabon became part of French Equatorial Africa.

Postcolonial History

This colonial federation was dismantled in 1958, and Gabon proclaimed full independence in 1960 while maintaining close ties with France. Léon M’Ba of the Bloc Démocratique Gabonais, later re-named the Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG), was elected president of Gabon’s new single-party political system. He was overthrown in a bloodless military coup in 1964, but French troops intervened and restored him to power. His vice president, Omar Bongo, ascended to the presidency upon M’Ba’s death in 1967. Bongo was re-elected six times and remained in office until his death in 2009. Bongo’s political party maintained power mainly by suppressing opposition groups. The current president, his son Ali Bongo, was elected despite allegations of voting fraud and took office in 2009.

Recommended Sources:

David E. Gardinier and Douglas A. Yates, Historical Dictionary of Gabon (Lanhan, Toronto, and Plymouth, UK: 2006).

Official Portal of the Gabonese Republic (http://www.en.legabon.org).

Audio and Video

Audio

Fang Bwiti ngombi [excerpt; Ngombi harp and vocal by Mvomo Asumu Andre]

Gabon; Fang peoples
"Fang Bwiti ngombi [excerpt; Ngombi harp and vocal by Mvomo Asumu Andre]"
Gabon and Río Muni, Fang, 1959-1960
Collected by James Fernandez
Indiana University, Bloomington
Archives of Traditional Music
71-255-F