16 - 10
Voodoo is an ancient religion from regions of Africa that has spread as far as Brazil and Haiti in South America due to abundant slave trades during the earlier centuries. But the actual birthplace of Voodoo is the small country of Benin in West Africa. More than half of the population still practices the 10,000-year-old religion in modern times, despite being exposed to Christianity and Islam.
Outsiders refer to the Voodoo religion as a dark, fetish religion and black magic or witchcraft. But for the people of Benin, Voodoo is a way of life and faith. That is why every Jan. 10, Benin celebrates the annual Voodoo festival in the capital Ouidah, the former slave port during the Atlantic slave trade. Thousands of foreign visitors visit the country during this time to witness out of this world ceremonies and find the most unusual merchandise in Benin’s fetish markets, including pythons and preserved skulls of dogs, elephants, goats, monkeys, and even of humans.
During the festival, thousands of Beninese of all classes from the provinces and rural areas who belong to the Voodoo religion come together and travel to Ouidah to be blessed by the capital’s chief Voodoo priest, Daagbo Hounon Houna. Despite the worldly perception of Voodoo as evil or black magic, the religion’s ceremonies and rituals are actually more of “good magic,” as good spirits are preferred to be summoned by Voodoo priests because they are believed to be more powerful than bad spirits. In order to gain the blessings and approval of the spirits and dead ancestors, animal sacrifices, most commonly of goats, are usually involved.
Followers of the Voodoo faith are known to practice animism, making the python a very sacred and thus highly worshipped creature. Killing a python is believed to become a cause of one’s death. Voodoo is also a matter of worshipping natural forces such air, earth, fire, and water.
The Voodoo festival is marked by music and entertainment and celebrates not only the religion itself, but also love, peace, and respect of the people of Benin and the country’s nature. Upbeat Congolese music, lively chants, and catchy drum beats can be heard in the streets where thousands of followers dance like in a trance-like state, while following a chief Voodoo priest. Colorful flags and tents can usually be seen during this very sacred day where different sects of the Voodoo religion practice prayers, ceremonies, and animal sacrifices. Drinking alcohol is a usual activity during the annual festival, also. As the day ends, the capital’s chief Voodoo priest often offers free food and beverages in his home to the religion’s followers.