Award-winning artist returns to his roots, acknowledged by Indigenous Bwiti elders
In 2014, critically acclaimed American visionary spray paint fine artist and muralist Chor Boogie healed a life-threatening opiate relapse with the help of the visionary iboga plant medicine and Bwiti ceremony, the sacred medicine and tradition of his African ancestors. After a decade of study and service, he has been acknowledged as a nganga (shaman healer and seer) of the tradition by his Indigenous elders, who have given him the mission of helping to share and represent the Bwiti in the West. Chor’s Bwiti name is Gnyangou, which means that he embodies the qualities of the sun.
Iboga, appropriately called the “Mt. Everest of psychedelics” due to the duration and intensity of its physical and psychological effects, contains the active alkaloid ibogaine. Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found predominantly in Tabernanthe iboga as well as in other plants. Preliminary research indicates that ibogaine may help with rapid drug detox and addiction disruption.
The iboga root has long been integral to the Bwiti tradition of central West Africa for spiritual initiation, spiritual and physical healing, shamanic diagnosis and prescription, community celebration ceremonies, self-study and mindfulness, communication with nature, fertility and aphrodisiac purposes, endurance and vision aid during long hunts (in light doses), and communion with ancestors for the healing of ancestral lines. Iboga is reverently considered by the Bwiti to be a sentient teacher, not a mere substance to consume.
“Iboga is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for my life. It can be a healing force, if one listens closely. Iboga gave me a deep connection with my ancestors, who I learned through DNA testing are of Bantu and Bobongo origin, the original holders of the medicine. I love how it teaches me to control my mind, versus my mind controlling me. Iboga gives more life to life,” says Chor Boogie.
Though Boogie is an advocate, he also wants to raise awareness about the crucial importance of thorough medical and holistic preparation, as well as ongoing long-term integration, which might involve counseling, community support, holistic wellness, and therapeutic creative arts, among other approaches.
Visionary artist Chor Boogie in Bwiti ceremonial attire. Image credit: River DeLieto.
Boogie is passionate about including the voices of Indigenous communities in the ongoing psychedelic renaissance, and in global conversations about the sustainability of iboga, which is currently being over-harvested to meet foreign demands for detox treatments.
Boogie integrates elements of his iboga visions into his art, visually transmitting the medicine. He has plans to release a series of NFTs and other artwork to help raise funds for the non-profit iboga sustainability organization Blessings of the Forest, as well as for other reciprocity projects in Gabon. “Indigenous reciprocity is neither charity nor saviorism. It comes through deep relationships, mutual respect, and dynamic collaboration,” Boogie says.
Chor’s wife Elizabeth Bast also experienced iboga, as she had learned in her initial research that the medicine might also help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She went on to author an intimate memoir about their journey together, Heart Medicine: A True Love Story—One Couple's Quest for the Sacred Iboga Medicine & the Cure for Addiction. Bast is a recipient of a "Women of the Psychedelic Renaissance” grant from the non-profit Cosmic Sister, and is a member of their expert advisory circle.
“I will never forget the morning after his very first ceremony,” says Elizabeth Bast. “When he looked out at the earth with awe and said, ‘I love my life. I never want to disrespect myself again.’ I could see my love again, when I barely recognized him the night before. This medicine doesn’t only heal the body; it can heal the soul—especially when held in a traditional ceremony with strong intentions. Iboga is famous for healing addiction, but that’s just the beginning of what it can offer. This is a medicine of spiritual initiation and visionary creativity.”
Working with iboga helped Bast and Boogie to heal their relationship, once on the brink of collapse in the toxic time of relapse with their complex- traumas colliding. They now work side by side, helping to share the healing and awareness of iboga, and have a one year old baby together.
Elizabeth Bast, Chor Boogie, and their new baby. Image credit: River DeLieto.
Boogie now helps people to travel to Gabon annually for initiation and studies with his Bwiti teachers, Chief Binana and Mocodi, both well respected in Gabon. Boogie feels protective of the integrity of the tradition and the medicine.
“Sometimes people have a few ceremonies or go to Africa for a week of initiation, and then feel they can start serving medicine," Boogie says. "Initiation is just that: initiating. It is only the beginning. Without deeper study, it is not only cultural appropriation, but it’s also physically, psychologically, and spiritually dangerous.”
Currently, iboga treatment costs can be prohibitive, due to the necessary comprehensive medical screening and preparation, 24/7 medical support, ethical iboga sourcing, long-term retreat framework, professional care for the intensive 48-72 hour journey, and travel to safe territories outside the U.S., due to prohibition. Currently, safe treatments with iboga and ibogaine are largely only accessible for the affluent. Boogie and Bast would like to see access expanded to marginalized people who need it the most, and they are working toward forming a nonprofit structure to help fund scholarships.
Originally from California, they regularly offer sacred medicine journeys with the highest quality medical support in locations where the medicine is not prohibited, alongside their experienced team and medical directors who have supervised over 700 treatments with a perfect safety record.
They are currently developing a new retreat center in Costa Rica called SoulCentro, which is planned to open in 2023.