THE ORIGINS OF BYÉ
My last name, BYÉ, comes from my grandfather in the Republic of Gabon. My father, Pierre Byé, inherited it, and I inherited it from my dad. The name is derived from members of my African family with the last name BIENNO.
**Gabon is a French equatorial country covering 103,347 square miles, (267,667 square kilometers) slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. Gabon is on the west coast of Africa, centered on the equator, and borders Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon to the north, and the Republic of Congo to the east and south. It is home to over forty ethnic groups and Frédéric is part of the largest one, the Fang, forming 40 percent of the population. Other major groups are the Teke, the Eshira, and the Pounou. As in many African countries, the borders of Gabon do not correspond to the borders of the ethnic groups. The Fang, inhabit northern Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, southern Cameroon, and the western part of the Republic of Congo. The cultures of the ethnic groups are akin to other groups in Central Africa, and center around the rain forest and its treasures.
Most of Frédéric’s family lives in Libreville, the capital. It is on the west coast in the north and it is in Fang territory. Libreville (“free town”) was the landing-place for a ship of freed slaves in the 1800s, and later became the capital.
There are roughly 1,200,500 Gabonese. There are equal numbers of men and women. The original inhabitants were the Pygmies, but only a few thousands remain. Of the total population, 60 percent live in the cities while 40 percent inhabit the villages. There is also a large population of Africans from other countries who have come to Gabon to find work.
The national language is French, which is mandatory in school. It is spoken by the majority of the population under the age of fifty. The use of a common language is extremely helpful in the cities, where Gabonese from all of the different ethnic groups come together to live. Most Gabonese speak at least two languages, as each ethnic group has its own language as well.
The Gabonese flag is made of three horizontal stripes: green, yellow, and blue. Green symbolizes the forest, yellow the equatorial sun, and blue the water from the sky and sea. The forest and its animals are greatly valued as well, and are portrayed on the Gabonese currency.
There are several different belief systems in Gabon. The majority of the Gabonese are Christian. There are three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants. There are many foreign clergy, though the Protestants have Gabonese pastors in the north. These beliefs are simultaneously held with Bwiti, an ancestral worship. There are also several thousand Muslims, most of whom have immigrated from other African countries.
After death, bodies are rubbed and anointed to remove rigor mortis. Because of the tropical climate, the bodies are interred within two days. They are buried in a wooden coffin. The deceased then joins the ancestors who are to be worshiped with the Bwiti ceremonies. They can be asked for advice, and for remedies for disease. There is a ‘retraite de deuil’ ceremony one year after death to end the mourning period.
Gabonese are very communal. Unlike North America, personal space is neither needed nor respected. When people are interested in something, they stare at it. It is not rude to call something what it is, to identify someone by his or her race, or to ask someone for something that is wanted. Foreigners are often offended by this. They may feel personally invaded by having someone stand in their space, insulted at being called white, and put off by people who ask them for their watch and shoes. None of these things are meant in a negative way, however, as they simply reflect the up-front nature of the Gabonese. Conversely, celebrity figures are treated with incredible respect. They are the first to sit, and the first to be fed, and are catered to with detail, regardless of their moral standing in society.
Much of Gabon’s literature is strongly influenced by France, as many authors received their schooling there. Writers use French, newspapers are in French, and television is broadcast in French. Radio programs use both French and local languages, however, and there is mounting interest in the history of Gabon’s natives.
**Courtesy of: http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/Gabon.html