How Do You Voodoo? Benin, February 2023

Voodoo Dolls Ouidah, Benin


When the West African slaves arrived in the Americas they were forbidden from practising their religious beliefs. The practice of Voodoo has nevertheless survived and thrived with its original birthplace considered to be Benin.

It is a religion that has been misrepresented and was denigrated and denounced by Colonialists as ‘black magic’ and witchcraft.

It’s a complex belief arrangement but there are many parallels with Christian rituals. They believe in one supreme God but there are numerous divinities that they worship that are functions of everyday life and fortune (as told to me..) – a god of thunder & rain, a god of the earth and harvest, a god of nature etc.  This is no different from praying to the Saints for safe travel or good health and prosperity. In Voodoo practice earthly items can be considered sacred as if containing a spirit and  that can aid communication with divinities. These items are called fetishes and can be dolls, animal parts or stones. In a sense that’s no different from the religious icons and images Christians choose to venerate in their worship also.

Visiting Voodoo shrines around villages in Benin has been interesting and confronting. We’re habituated with the gilded, ornate nature of Christian shrines and churches that pays homage to God on high- but Voodoo shrines are raw and unembellished sites covered in food offerings and remnants of animal sacrifice (a high price of veneration to pay for people of meagre means).

I have come away with only a basic understanding and respect for the traditions but the most memorable will be ‘Legba’ the protector divinity who guards a community or village against enemies and evil. The same concerns are represented by the evil eye or Fatima’s hand amulets in other cultures. Except Legba sits guard as a human form with an enormous phallus that will scare off any evil wisher! I’m pretty sure the Catholic Pope ordered all of those covered up with fig leaves on the statues in Rome long ago!

Legba the Protector Divinity

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