The staples vary little among the groups in Gabon. The groups share a landscape and climate, and thus are able to produce the same kinds of things. Bananas, papayas, pineapples, guavas, mangoes, bushbutter, avocado, and coconuts are the fruits. Eggplants, bitter eggplants, feed corn, sugarcane, peanuts, plantains, and tomatoes are also found. Cassava is the main starch. It is a tuber with little nutritional value, but fills the stomach. Its young leaves are picked and used as a vegetable. Protein comes from the sea and rivers, as well as from bush meat hunted by the men.
Wines are made from palm trees and sugarcane. The palm wine, in conjunction with a hallucinogenic root called eboga, is used during ceremonies for death, healing, and initiation. In small doses, eboga acts as a stimulant, making it useful for all-night ceremonies. In larger quantities, it is hallucinogenic, allowing participants to “see their ancestors.” Food and wine are offered to the ancestors during the ceremonies, and both men and women partake in these rituals, which are full of drumming, singing and dancing.
In the villages, the Gabonese are able to provide themselves virtually everything they need. They buy only soap, salt, and medicine. In the cities, however, most of the goods sold are imported and marketed by foreigners. The Gabonese produce enough bananas, plantains, sugar, and soap to export to nearby cities, but 90 percent of the food is imported. West Africans and Lebanese hold title to many of the shops, and women from Cameroon dominate the open markets.
Gabon’s currency, the Communaute Financiere Africaine, is automatically converted into French francs, thus giving trading partners confidence in its security. The bulk of the crude oil goes to France, the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. Major export items include manganese, forest products, and oil. Overall, France receives more than one-third of Gabon’s exports and contributes half of its imports. Gabon also trades with other European nations, the United States, and Japan.