Prehistoric remains testify to extremely ancient human activity on the land that is currently part of Gabon. The oldest traces of worked stone in the Central African rain forest belt were found in the region of La Lopé. On the Elarmekora site, near Otoumbi, archaeologists have discovered stones cut by human hands that are 400,000 years old. Axes and arrowheads dating from the Stone Age, approximately 10,000 years B.C., have also been found in Moyen-Ogooué and in southern Gabon.
The migration phases
Pygmies were the first known inhabitants of Gabon's forests. They settled here in 5000 B.C., living from hunting, fishing and gathering. Then, 750 years ago, began the migration phases of the main ethnic groups who came to settle and remain in Gabon today.
The Bantu people were initially the major wave of migration forming the cocoon of the first population of Gabon. Originating from a small core group emerging in North Africa, Bantu is not the name of an ethnic group, but of a group of languages. Leaving the Sahelian zone c. 5000 B.C., they slowly descended towards the south, intermixing with the peoples they encountered on the way.
Arriving in the region of the Estuary in the 11th century, the Mpongwe of the Myènè branch slowly settled there up until the 8th century. From the 16th century onwards, a wide variety of ethnic groups began to arrive in Gabon, first of all along the Ivindo valley (Bakélé, Simba, Mitsogho, Okandé and Bakota), then from the south (Eshira, Bapunu, Balumbu then M'Bédé, Bandjabi, Bat-sangui and Aduma, etc.). The Fang arrived in the 19th century.
Today Gabon is peopled by around forty different ethnic groups, most of whom have a common origin in the Bantu language.
The arrival of the Europeans
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to land in Gabon, at the end of the 15th century. Gabon's name actually comes from a Portuguese word - "gabão" – which gave the French word "caban" meaning a jacket worn by sailors, which was apparently the same shape as the mouth of the river Komo. Trade then began to grow, with the setting up of a number of European trading posts along the coast.
The French arrived in Gabon in 1515. In 1839, a treaty, extending France's influence to Gabon, was signed by King Denis, whose real name was "AntchouwéKowéRapontchombo", and the Captain of the French ship Bouët-Willaumez.
In 1910, Gabon became a colony in French Equatorial Africa, then a French overseas territory in 1946.
In 1958, Gabon became an independent Republic, and Mr Leon MBA, who had been mayor of Libreville since 1956, took up the position of Prime Minister.
Independence or the transition to democracy
The independence of the Republic of Gabon was proclaimed on 17 August 1960. The principles of union, work and justice were entrenched to further unity. On 13 February 1961, Leon MBA was appointed to the highest office in the land, becoming the first President of the Gabonese Republic. When he died, his successor was Albert Bernard Bongo, who came to office on 28 November 1967.