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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 18:51 GMT
Benin marks Voodoo Day
Boy selling voodoo fetishes in Togo
Voodoo is widely followed across West Africa
By Karim Okanla in Benin

Thousands of citizens of Benin and their guest from other parts of the world have celebrated the annual Voodoo Day in style.

The annual festival is held in tents with colourful flags representing different voodoo sects and is marked with prayers, libations and sacrifices.

About 60% of the country's 6.3 million people practice voodoo.

And thousands descended on the seaside city of Ouidah on Thursday to receive blessings from Daagbo Hounon Houna, the city's voodoo head.

The festival is a time when ordinary people from all over Benin get a rare chance to rub shoulders with kings and queens in expensive African attire.

Sacrifices

They are joined by travellers from as far afield as Haiti, the United States and Europe.

Priest performing voodoo
Libations and prayers are an important part of voodoo

Ouidah, a former slave port on the Atlantic Ocean, some 40 kilometres from Cotonou, Benin's capital city, is known by many as the birthplace of voodoo.

Even well educated Beninois such as Cyrille Sagbo, a Western-trained English teacher, believe in voodoo and attend the festival.

"Sacrificing a goat is a good way to receive the blessings of the ancestors and keep diseases away from the entire population of Benin, not just the voodoo followers," he told me.

The voodoo leader, wearing golden earrings and a black-and-white head scarf, crowned by a conical hat, sits next to his senior priestess, draped in a hand-woven attire.

People who practise the tradition believe that life derives from the natural forces of earth, water, fire and air.

Fanfare

On the beach, for entertainment, 10 horse riders turn the seaside into a race track, attracting many children.

Huge loudspeakers blast out Congolese music, drowning the sound from traditional drummers.

Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are prominently advertised.

The day also bears a special significance for followers of traditional religions in Benin.

At a time when economic conditions are harsh and Aids is killing millions, prayers and God's mercy are in great demand.


Voodoo is all about love and peace, and also about the respect for tradition. Voodoo has brought me great serenity.

French Kpodjinou Finagnon

The day ends in Sogbadji, the official residence of voodoo chief Daagbo Hounon, who offers the crowd free food and drinks.

People chant and dance to the African drums, and onlookers like myself are left feeling slightly excluded by the whole process.

See also:

25 Mar 01 | Africa
Benin president re-elected
21 Mar 01 | Africa
Benin poll further undermined
12 Mar 01 | Africa
Run-off for Benin
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Benin
20 Nov 01 | Africa
Benin's mystery moped murders
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