Major religions practiced in Gabon include Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Many people practice elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Approximately 88 percent of the population (42% Catholic) practice one of the denominations of Christianity; 6 percent practice Islam (mainly Sunni); 6 percent practice traditional religion or are atheists.
Christianity arrived in Gabon through the Portuguese traders in early 16th century. The Italian Capuchin monks set up Christian missions in the 17th century. The Portuguese missionaries and Italian monks cooperation ended in the 18th century, and the Portuguese officials expelled the Capuchin monks in 1777. New missions such as the Sacred Heart and Holy Ghost, as well as Protestant missions from Europe arrived in the mid 19th century. Catholicism had established itself in Gabon with the Portuguese colonial efforts in 18th century, and grown to be the leading denomination by 1900. With the start of French colonial rule, Christian missions from Paris arrived between 1890s and 1960. More evangelical Churches have grown since the mid 20th century.
The Babongo are a forest people of Gabon on the west coast of equatorial Africa. They are the originators of the Bwiti religion. Other peoples in Gabon have combined traditional Bwiti practices with animism and Christian concepts to produce a very different modern form of Bwiti. The Bwiti rituals form part of the initiation into the Babongo people. Babonga people's lives are highly ritualised through dance, music and ceremony associated with natural forces and jungle animals. Foreign missionaries are active in the country.
Islam has had a small presence in Gabon, with about 6% of the people following Sunni practice. One of the former presidents, Bongo converted to Islam in 1971, added Omar to his name, and switched from multiparty democracy to one party system, as he positioned Gabon to be an oil producer. Despite being a predominantly Christian nation, Omar Bongo led Gabon to join the Islamic coalition of nations in 1974. After Bongo's political power ended in 1991, after allegations of nepotistic corruption and a popular revolt, Gabon reverted from the one party system to multiparty system.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The US government received no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice during 2007.