Voodoo makes a comeback in its Benin home

A dozen years after Benin gained independence, voodoo was banned by Mathieu Kerekou, a Marxist-Leninist who came to power in a military coup.

13 January 2020 | International

DELPHINE BOUSQUET

In his long life, voodoo priest Kpohinto Medji has seen his religion flourish and then go into decline, banned for years by the authorities and pressured by other faiths.

Today, the ageing priest with mischievous eyes is somewhat happier.

Benin has been gearing up for its annual voodoo festival - an event that lures an influx of visitors to the capital Porto-Novo and underscores voodoo's comeback in the country of its birth.

Houngo Hounto Square is among a number of squares once owned by voodoo-worshipping families that are being renovated.

Painters put the finishing touches to its ochre walls ahead of the 10 January festival, and fetishes and tokens of the old religion are proudly on display.

"Before, it was a run-down, abandoned square," the old priest said, speaking in the local language of Goun. "Today, it's lovely."

Voodoo, more often called ‘vodun’ in West Africa, has a hierarchy of deities and tribal spirits of nature, and sees revered ancestors living alongside the living.

It uses fetishes, magical practises and healing remedies, which followers consider to be divine.

But its rituals have often been distorted by Hollywood, which tends to stereotype the religion as a source of black magic.

In Benin, voodoo was battered by French colonisation, when it was demonised by Catholic missionaries.

A dozen years after Benin gained independence, voodoo was banned by Mathieu Kerekou, a Marxist-Leninist who came to power in a military coup.

His elected successor, Nicephore Soglo, lifted the ban, but the religion came under pressure once more with the spread of evangelism in West Africa, whose preachers often compare native religions with sorcery.

According to the latest available official figures, which date from 2013, practitioners of voodoo, who are called vodounsi, account for just 11% of Benin's population, against nearly 30% Muslim and 25% Christian.

"There are so many religions which have arrived in Benin, they have turned our brothers away from our faith," said Raymond Zannou, a printer.

His ancestors built Houngbo Hounto Square. Today, "a minority of people take care of maintaining the squares, and often they are elderly," he said.

Porto-Novo, a city of about a quarter of a million people, originally developed as a port for slave trade under the Portuguese empire in the 17th century.

Its squares - 44, according to Gerard Bassale, head of a local cultural association called Ouadada - are one of its most distinctive features.

Many of them belong to local families, who built their homes there and established temples and housed their divinities as protection.

But many of them fell into sad disrepair, becoming a symbol of voodoo's marginalisation. Many blamed squabbles within families about sharing out the cost of renovation.

"They are the identity of our town. They create links between people, they are where important ceremonies take place," said Bassale, whose organisation is refurbishing the squares.

"If they disappeared, part of the town's history would go with them."

Restoring each square costs the equivalent of around $66 000 (over N$939 000). The funding comes from Cergy-Pontoise, a town in the greater Paris region that has twinning links.

Porto-Novo's authorities pay for solar-powered lighting for the squares and for cleaning them, but do not maintain the voodoo shrines there, which are considered private areas.

King Te Houeyi Migan XIV, a descendant of a long line of local chiefs, is delighted at the rebirth of the squares.

French colonisers used a forest that was sacred to his forebears to build Porto-Novo's cathedral and governor's palace.

The chief, clad in a magnificent purple gown, pointed to an ancient kapok tree towering over one of three renovated squares near the old palace.

"It is a sacred tree. Spirits live there," said the king. "Every five years, we hold a great party and make sacrifices there."

Paul Nouatin, treasurer of an association that maintains two of the squares, said there had been an upturn in interest in voodoo - around 20 young people had been initiated into the religion in December alone, he said.

Mito Akplogan Guin, the supreme head of voodoo in Porto-Novo, said he was optimistic.

"Catholics, Protestants, Muslims… all their ancestors (in Benin) were followers of voodoo. Our religion can't disappear in a flash."

NAMPA/AFP

Similar News

 

South Sudan's guns silent – for now

3 weeks ago - 09 March 2020 | International

On 22 February, hours before the deadline for rival South Sudanese political groups to form another unity government, chief justice Chan Reec Madut swore in...

Tanzania 'anti-gay' force official Paul Makonda banned from US

1 month - 03 February 2020 | International

BBC A top Tanzanian official who launched a surveillance squad dedicated to hunting down gay people has been banned by the US from entering...

Chinese army to oversee virus hospital

1 month - 03 February 2020 | International

China's army was given control yesterday of a nearly-finished field hospital that will treat patients at the epicentre of a deadly virus epidemic that has...

Iran fires missiles at US troop bases in Iraq

2 months ago - 09 January 2020 | International

Iran fired a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops yesterday, the Islamic republic's first act in its promised revenge...

Ukraine passenger jet crashes in Iran

2 months ago - 09 January 2020 | International

A Ukrainian airliner carrying 176 people from seven countries crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran yesterday, killing all on board.The vast majority of the passengers...

Families seek answers on 'Lusaka massacre'

3 months ago - 23 December 2019 | International

The remains of seven suspected criminals who were shot dead in Lusaka on 5 December have been returned to Namibia. Relatives who went to...

Namibian Correctional Service takes the lead

4 months ago - 11 November 2019 | International

Namibia, through the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS), has become the first Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) country to launch a country-specific Corrections/Prisons Women's Network as...

Cassinga survivors join Cubans in peaceful demonstration

4 months ago - 11 November 2019 | International

The secretary-general of the Namibia-Cuba Friendship Association, Cecilia Muzile, joined over 100 demonstrators in Windhoek at a peaceful march against the United States of America's...

New blueprint for bilateral relations

4 months ago - 11 November 2019 | International

Following the drawing up of a new blueprint for bilateral relations between Namibia and China the two countries' relations have entered a new era of...

'Lies' emerge in Senzo Meyiwa murder

4 months ago - 11 November 2019 | International

In a twist to the five-year investigation into Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa's murder, it has now emerged that the police will refocus their investigations...

Latest News

Mariental flooded after cloudburst

16 hours ago | Disasters

ELLANIE SMITMARIENTALMajor flooding was experienced at Mariental yesterday morning after 120 mm of rain fell within a two-hour period.The rain started at about 08:00 and...

Geingob needs support to lead...

16 hours ago | Opinion

President Hage Geingob often gets the stick for all the challenges that the country faces, but perhaps unfairly so at times.While he arguably did not...

20 000 Jack Ma corona...

16 hours ago | Disasters

JEMIMA BEUKESWINDHOEKNamibia may only start using the 20 000 coronavirus testing kits donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma by the end of April.The government is...

Hefty lockdown violation fines revealed

16 hours ago | Disasters

ELLANIE SMIT WINDHOEKPeople who flout the lockdown rules during the coronavirus state of emergency could be fined up to N$2 000. This is in accordance...

Meatco to restart slaughtering

16 hours ago | Agriculture

ELLANIE SMIT WINDHOEK Meatco will restart slaughtering activities at its factory next week following a declaration that the agriculture value chain is an essential service....

Dams more than 50% full

16 hours ago | Weather

ELLANIE SMIT WINDHOEK The average dam level has risen to 56.9%, nearly twice as high as last season when the dams were only 31.1% full....

Fresh and Popping – Lockdown...

16 hours ago | Art and Entertainment

MICHAEL KAYUNDE WINDHOEK As you already know, Fresh and Popping is where we share trending songs, hot out of the booth. We tell you...

Sharing hope with gospel music

16 hours ago | Art and Entertainment

MICHAEL KAYUNDE WINDHOEKA genre with a devoted community of fans, Namibian gospel is producing more and more world-class content, like award-winning Manda Gabriel, who recently...

Keeping it real

16 hours ago | Art and Entertainment

Recently, we've had some new names on this page. The response has been awesome, but I've also received some resentful opinions. Asking why the page...

Load More