African Voodoo: Benin the cradle of voodoo

African Voodoo: Benin the cradle of voodoo

Voodoo dolls and zombies? In reality, the oldest religion in the world has very little to do with all that.The voodoo cult ́s roots lay in Benin, a small country in Western Africa, from where it spread over the whole world due to slave trade, to Northern and Southern America and the Caribbeans where it has found its own interpretations. In collaboration with the journalist Laura Salm‐Reifferscheidt I tried to portray and understand it’s reality and myth. The cult’s numerous ritualistic acts are still an inherent part of everyday life in Benin, they provide healing and maintain the balance in society. It is a the mystic world of priests, healers and magicians, explaining the cult of ancestors and sacrificial rituals . As modernization is shifting the values of the people in Benin, creating new needs and thurst for personal enrichment, Voodoo and its rituals and ceremonies remain an anchor of hope to a more prosperous and fullfilled life, the people moving between faith and superstition, rituals and witchcraft. A religion and culture which is incorporated and lived naturally and farming part of the daily life. Voodoo remains for those who are not initiated a lasting secret, often described as “that, what we will never understand“.

 

by Ann-Christine Woehrl

Voodoo dolls and zombies? In reality, the oldest religion in the world has very little to do with all that.The voodoo cult ́s roots lay in Benin, a small country in Western Africa, from where it spread over the whole world due to slave trade, to Northern and Southern America and the Caribbeans where it has found its own interpretations. In collaboration with the journalist Laura Salm‐Reifferscheidt I tried to portray and understand it’s reality and myth. The cult’s numerous ritualistic acts are still an inherent part of everyday life in Benin, they provide healing and maintain the balance in society. It is a the mystic world of priests, healers and magicians, explaining the cult of ancestors and sacrificial rituals . As modernization is shifting the values of the people in Benin, creating new needs and thurst for personal enrichment, Voodoo and its rituals and ceremonies remain an anchor of hope to a more prosperous and fullfilled life, the people moving between faith and superstition, rituals and witchcraft. A religion and culture which is incorporated and lived naturally and farming part of the daily life. Voodoo remains for those who are not initiated a lasting secret, often described as “that, what we will never understand“.

 

A mentally ill woman who has been ostracised and put into a shelter for mentally ill people. A very common problem in Benin, where people believe that the mental illness comes from being bewitched and hence afraid to confront themselves to such powers. After the sacrifices have been made, the adepts of the god of the thunder, Heviosso, start to dance. Once the god takes possession of the Vodunsis, an adept, she will bite into the neck of the animal in order to receive some of the sacred blood. After the ceremony the animal will be eaten by the whole group of adepts assisting the ceremony. After seven months the novices can leave the monastery, where she has learned the songs, the language and the dances of Voodoo. They are blessed to the god Atchaba and is called Atakpessou through some rituals done by a group of priests.Her old name is no longer existant and forbidden to mention from that moment on. The priestess Nan Huedehoun inside of her old Heviosso temple receiving an adept.When the oracle revealed to her that her faith was to become a priestess she first escaped her task by moving to the Ivory Coast, as she was afraid of this high responsibility. After three years of being persecuted by bad luck she eventually accepted her fate. Recently her son died. As a priestess of such an important temple she feels a lot of envy around her and is convinced the he got poisened. One of the most highly feared warrior Undergods, the most violent and powerful of the Yoruba spirits and the voodoo rituals surrounding involves that its followers fall into a deep trance with rapidly beating drums. Once possessed by the spirit, the body in which the Kokou inhabits may remain in a trance all day. The woman adept continues to dance worshipping her God Kokou. The priest Dah Agbalenon has built a temple in the shape of a chameleon, representing the man part of the creater god couple Mawu-Lissa. He wanted to give access to all the faithful  to assist on sunday mornings his Voodoo ceremony.  People from the sorrounding villages come to listen to the prayers. The God Legba, the joungest child of the creater god couple Mawu-Lissa i soften represented with an erected penis, symbolizing his alertness and virility. It is a funeral of the cursed woman Clementine. Her familymembers have come to pick her up for the funeral in her home. She is been put in a glass house cooled with aircondition built in the courtyard. The children of her claim, that the brother of their mother had given her a magic potion because of land dispute. Every year Benin celebrates a big Voodoo festival, the National day of Voodoo.The supreme priest Daagbo Hounon Tomadjlehoukpon II leads the ceremonies taking place along the beach of Ouidah besides the Gate of no returnÒ, remembering the times of slavery, where through Voodoo has been spread from Africa to the Caribbean, North-and Southamerica. Kofi le Grand is an oracle reader, using a mathematical system on which the culture and religion of Benin is based on by being able to define the fate of the people in the past, present and future.As an offering, some feathers of the chicken are used to solve the problem defined during his consultation. The priest Agbalenon has built a temple in the shape of a chameleon , representing the man part of the creater god couple Mawu-Lissa. He wanted to give access to all the faithful  to assist on sunday mornings the Voodoo ceremony. People from the sorrounding villages come to dance to the beat of the drums and the chanting of the adepts. Under the supervision of an elderly lady in the market area of Cotonou, a young innocent girl detects with the help of a mirror a robbery and can after describe it to the person who has been stolen. A group of Vodunsis, adepts, during a ceremony at the beach of Ouidah at the National Voodoo Day. It is seen as an important public holiday and is viewed in the same manner as Christmas and the Muslim Eid as it is a religious day. As in most of the ceremonies, alcohol as Gin or a local schnapps Sodabi, made out of palmtree, play a very important role. The first sips are always spitted on the ground as an offering to the ancestrals and spirits. The blood of the sacrificed animals will be spread over the fetish figures by the priest. When there are bigger ceremonies the sacrifice is done on many animals, goats and chicken primarily. After the sacrificing ritual the priests reads the oracle in order to see, whether the gods have accepted the sacrifices that have been made. In the morgue are a number of dead person waiting to be transported to the family members for the funeral.. It is a funeral of the cursed woman Clementine. Her family members have come to pick her up for the funeral in her home. The family is mourning. The children of her claim, that the brother of their mother had given her a magic potion because of land dispute. The oracle reader draws the sign he read from the oracle in a thick layer of kaolin spread on a board, which he then will interpret during his session. A goat being led to the fetish before being sacrificed.
Depending on the gravity of the problem, the elusiveness of a request, the sacrifice to be done varies from a chicken, a ram, a goat or even a cow. If a god feels neglected by his worshippers he can bring misery to a whole village. After the sacrifices have been made, the adepts of the god of the thunder, Heviosso, start to dance. Once the god takes possession of the Vodunsis, an adept, she will bite into the neck of the animal in order to receive some of the sacred blood. After the ceremony the animal will be eaten by the whole group of adepts assisting the ceremony. In almost every village and town of Benin there are markets only selling living and dead animals, herbs and plants. Important ingredients for healing illnesses, protecting from the evil and dark and occult practices. A ceremony of novices leaving the convent Cleansing rituals play an important role in many Voodoo-ceremonies. In ordet to free the affected person from being bewitched or possessed by evil magic, the body gets washed with a sacral mixture out of alcohol and other ingredients. A motorcyle transporting a coffin for the funeral taking place the next day.In general car drivers and motorcyclers always waer a grigri, an amulet to protect themselves from an accident.