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Posts from the ‘Voodoo’ Category

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.

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Voodoo dancers

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.

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House of Python

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.

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Voodooshis

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.

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Motel “D’Worm”

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Voodoo Child

After a long day of travel and sightseeing, at six o’clock in the evening we head out to a Voodoo ceremony. Three people to a scooter, Mare sits between two men on one scooter, and I on another. I have never felt such closeness, sandwiched between two men before. Mare probably enjoys this better than I. The half-hour ride bounces over bumps, powdered dust, rocks and ruts. No riders around here wear goggles, and despite us wearing sunglasses, our eyes burn and water. We have never been so filthy.

The following account comes from my interpretation of what Mare and I experience at a genuine ceremony. Voodoo is complex, and this information we get through our guide, Apollo, by asking questions that he has to ask the family member who invited us.

Each family hires a fetish priest, a Voodoonou, once every seven years. The reasons vary, and each Voodoonou has his area of specialty, but this seven year ceremony is mostly for the family’s good heath and fortune. If a family has had a good year, they may sacrifice a cow, but most sacrifice goats.

Voodoo followers worship the Python. A python will not bite you, but if you kill one, even accidentally, you will die. These beliefs, as all of these beliefs, help the people to stay in touch with their ancestors.

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So, we sit in a circular row of chairs around a House of Python. We sit, stare, sit some more, in between Apollo and Abell. Apollo says that they will protect us. They seem nervous.

Abell tells Apollo (in native tongue) to tell Mare to “Slowly give your camera to Apollo. He might be able to sneak a couple of shots.”

Villagers, friends and relatives of this family, begin to arrive. The Chief of this tribe shows up, with his wife, dressed in bright garb with a yellow sash. People approach both of them and bow down to their knees. Then they bend over and kiss the dust on the ground, while the Chief claps his hands together a few times. People use this same greeting for the Chief’s wife, and the many dignitaries, such as holy fetish priests, priestesses, who are Voodooshis, that are on a lower tier than the high Voodoonou. All in all, between 750 and 1,000 people are here, mostly greeting each other.

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Arriving

I feel like I’m going to pass-out. Mare is exhausted as well. She whispers into my ear, “The things I do for you.”

We are getting delirious. I remember a silly video that a friend sent to me prior to this trip. In it, a white man is captured by an African tribe and has his feet tied together, while his arms are tied around a log across his back. The villagers chase him, as he tries to hop away. They catch him, kill him, and cook him.

I whisper to Mare, “If I see a white man hopping, I’m taking off!”

We get a case of the giggles and try to hide our inappropriate laughter. We are pretty conspicuous as it is, being the only white people here, at a sacred ceremony, and do not want to appear disrespectful. I’m reminded of my altar boy days, trying not to laugh during mass.

Darkness descends, and still we sit and stare straight ahead. We ask Apollo questions, for him to interpret from Abell. Here is a summary…Most of Voodoo is for goodness, but there also is a dark side. For instance, if you go to a Voodoonou and ask for someone to be killed, he will put you through a rigorous number of tasks first, such as bringing him a woman’s menstrual blood. Also, you will bring him the heart of a dead person, which you will need to dig up. Even Apollo believes that a Voodoonou, who specializes in this area, has the power to kill a person without physically seeing them.

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Moses

Many people believe that Rastafarians derive from Prince Ra Sta, who is believed to be embodied with a living god. But here, in the birthplace of Voodoo, a much older story teaches that a couple, who cannot produce children, will approach a Voodoonou (specialist) for fertility. However, after they have a child, he is not permitted to cut his hair, or he will die. The family must trade again with the Voodoonou, in order for the child to get a haircut. No wonder I see only two Rastafarians with dreadlocks in all these countries thus far. Rasta’s are discriminated against here, even by the government, like a Voodoo Child.

Restorative Justice Voodoo Style

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Theo, the proprietor, joins us for breakfast. He speaks French, so our conversation is rather limited until Apollo shows up to translate. Meanwhile, we watch children cast their nets into the shallow lake, hoping to fill them with Tilapia.

            We jump into a taxi, en route to the town of Abomey. Passing through several villages, changing cars, we learn that Saturday marks a major market day. A good distance out into the countryside, we pass a small, mud-hut village, and Apollo makes the driver stop the car. He exits, while children come to our window and wave, shake hands with us, and giggle. The kids find us as fascinating as we find them.
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Apollo returns. “The elder men in the village are getting ready for a Voodoo ceremony. I’m trying to get permission from the Voodoonou for you to photograph them.”

The Voodoonou must consult the spirits. Eventually, we are granted permission.

Voodoo ceremonies have many purposes, and most seem similar to praying for good things to happen. This particular ceremony involves a member of the village, who had had something stolen from him. He consults the Voodoonou, and agrees to provide a goat, or it could be a chicken if he cannot afford a goat, for sacrifice.

After this ceremony, every villager is asked if they were the one who had stolen the item. If the person who steals the item denies doing it, he will die on the spot. The human skulls which anchor the fetish display give credence to this claim. Fetish priests can specialize in this power to cause death, but only after a long and complex, traditional ceremony. If the thief admits to stealing the item, he must restore it to the victim, along with an additional gift.

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I’m Innocent!

We are not permitted to watch this ceremony, but are privileged to be able to take a few photos.

As retired criminal justice professionals, Mare and I cannot help to correlate this concept of “Restorative Justice” to our profession. And we think of ourselves as pioneers of a new idea? This Voodoo origin predates all of us.

Apollo insists that prior to the introduction of Christianity, thievery was not an issue. We are not so sure about that claim, but it’s an interesting comment .