The people that are called Fang constitute a vast mosaic of village communities. Established in a large zone of Atlantic equatorial Africa comprising Cameroon, continental equatorial Guinea and nearly the whole north of Gabon, on the right bank of the Ogowe River. Historically the Fang were itinerant, and it is relatively recently that they have settled into this broad area. The migratory existence of the Fang prohibited the creation of ancestral shrines at gravesites. Instead, the remains of the important dead, in the form of the skull and other bones, were carried from place to place in a cylindrical bark box.
The great rain forest region where the Fang settled is a plateau of middle altitude, cut by innumerable waters with falls and rapids rendering navigation for the most part impossible, and with a climate typically equatorial. Fang are principally hunters but also agriculturists. Their social structure is based on a clan, a group of individuals with a common ancestor, and on the family. The Fang are of medium height and have a relatively powerful build and pride themselves greatly on their physical beauty.
The Fang are especially known for their guardian figures, which they attach to wooden boxes containing bones of the ancestors. The bones, by tradition, are said to contain the power of the dead person, in fact, the same amount of power that the person had while still alive.
The Fang are reported to have moved from the northeast centuries ago and settled in the region to farm. Because they are a warrior like people they quickly conquered the native inhabitants. Many ethnic groups still fear the Fang because of their powerful aggressive tendencies. The Fang are also known for their older practice of cannibalism, which they practiced unashamedly during the 17th centuries and earlier.
Using slash and burn techniques the Fang still farm as their chief occupation. During the early years of European settlement many resorted to elephant hunting to provide ivory for the traders.
Leadership in Fang villages is inherited, and the leader is usually supposed to be descended from the family who started the village. The leader also serves as the spiritual leader, able to communicate with the ancestors of the village. He does this by the wearing of masks, which are also an important feature of Fang artwork.
Youll often be told to be careful who you speak to while in Equatorial Guinea, and this fear is pervasive. With shifting laws and rules, the population is continuously kept off-balance and nervous. Daily life revolves around the oil industry; otherwise people live a very traditional African lifestyle, in small villages of mud houses, with agriculture as the main occupation. People work sunrise to sunset, drinking starts early, and talking continues until sleep comes. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic, owing to 400 years of Spanish occupation, but traditional animist beliefs are still strong and often intermixed with Catholicism. Witchcraft is still practiced but is stigmatized, and kept under wraps.
Someone once said that the Gabonese like to act more French than the French themselves, and this certainly could hold true in westernized, glitzy Libreville, despite the remaining resentment of the old colonial masters who are also still Gabons biggest trading and investment partners. Beyond the big city, the Gabonese are still living simply, sometimes in the same conditions and traditions as hundreds of years ago. Yet even in the most remote villages, you wont find the kind of poverty seen in other parts of Africa. Everyone in Gabon has enough money for beer, and thats just what they spend it on. Women are allowed to join in, but only after the other chores have been completed. On Sundays, everyone dresses in their best and heads off to church where spirited dancing and singing occurs. The Gabonians live a slow, relaxed lifestyle as they reject the idea of westernized work schedule.