Voodoo Ceremony in Benin
We hear the drummers pound a unique, rhythmic beat with plenty of cowbell. The fetish priests form a dancing line behind the top man, the Voodoonou, who fluidly guides the line, slithering around and circling the House of Python. The women join, headed by the Voodooshis, and on down the ranking. Sort of like the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Nuns, to altar boys and Eucharistic lay ministers, for lack of any other analogy. The crowd woos, and the family, which sits around the first ring of a circle, drinks special alcohol. The line of dancing holy people comes to a stop, and they stand with their back to the House of Python, facing the family. The drums stop. More greetings continue. Some family members enter the House of Python, and come out with bowls of some sort of liquid, but we cannot see what happens inside.
The drums resume, and a man pulls a young, white goat by a rope. The goat screams. He sounds like a small child. He tries to resist by leaning back onto his haunches, but this goat is groomed his entire life for this ceremony. (Somebody tell that to the goat!) With special care, and diet, the goat is believed to already be full of the good spirit.
The drums change to a slower rhythm, and a lower level fetish priest hoists the goat into the air, holding him by both sets of legs. He taps the roof of the House of Python, and then taps the ground with the goat, over and over, for about fifteen minutes. The goat cries the entire time.
Another change of drum rhythm to a faster pace, and the man slices the goat’s throat. He slowly drains the blood into a bowl, while the other fetish priests and the Voodoonou approve. He brings a bowl of blood to a family member sitting in the first ring of the circle. The family member dips his finger into the blood, taps the top of his knee with it several times, dips again and then douses his lips with it. This same process continues for each individual family member, many of them, in this ceremony.
Afterwards, a Voodooshi holds the goat high, by his neck, and forms another dancing line that encircles the entire complex. Many women and children follow her. The goat is pushing out any remaining bad spirit that is in the complex. Then, the Voodoonou grabs the goat, and does the same thing, with another long line, purifying the grounds.
The goat is brought back to the middle of the circle and placed on a pile of green leaves. A woman kneels down, and places her face in the dust where the goat is wrapped in leaves. The drums take on a distinct, louder beat. A woman dances in the middle of the circle, making bizarre movements, stamping her feet and pulling her shoulders back and forward, hands waving parallel to the ground. A different man unravels the goat from the leaves, and hands him to the woman. The drums really roll now and the woman dances with the goat, first holding it up high by its neck, then upside down, under her arm, to make it look like his legs are dancing. The crowd chants every time the goat is flipped onto his back. The Voodoonou and all other fetish priests and Voodooshis watch carefully, as both the woman’s and the goat’s movement tells whether or not the good spirit chases out the bad.
Apollo only sneaks one or two photos. He and Abell seem more afraid than Mare and I! This crowd of at least 800 people only give us quick glances, not seeming to care.We leave the group, despite there being one more ceremony tonight. We would see much the same thing, and it is already ten o’clock in the evening, of a very long day.
We find it difficult to watch the goat die at first, but with an open mind, I realize that this ceremony is older than Catholicism, where we eat the Body of Christ, and drink the Blood of Him as well – interesting comparison, to say the least. We all want the same thing…a good spirit.
The ride back to our hotel, where we squeeze in between two men on scooters, proves to be the scariest event of the evening. My rider provides the light for Mare’s, who is in front of us. The treacherous road can barely be seen. We get separated. When I arrive at the motel, Mare is nowhere in sight. I worry and am about to start walking back, when she shows up.
We are totally stoked! After sharing a few beers with Apollo and Abell, Mare and I shower together, and it never felt so good. I am too exhausted to sleep. The Voodoo drums still play in my head. I hear, and feel a light thump on the top of my sheet, near my belly. I look at the sheet and see a two-inch worm. Then I look up at the damp ceiling, and realize that worms are dropping from it. I hear slight smacks when they fall to the tile. Mare is sleeping. I roll onto my side, in the event I fall asleep with my mouth open. Then the place looses electrical power. Mare wakes up, and we lay in pitch black. It seems the worms are dropping with more frequency in the darkness.
“I hear something in our backpacks,” Mare says with alarm. “Maybe it’s a mouse or something?”
“Nah…don’t worry,” I say. “It’s only worms dropping from the ceiling.”
“Oh!” she says sarcastically. “That makes me feel better!”
We get another case of the giggles, for an hour. We both have to urinate, but resist the urge, rather than risk walking on worms in our bare feet, in the dark, on the way to the bathroom. Eventually, we pass out.