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The practice of Voodoo: Preserving a world heritage. By Dah Jah & Netiva Caftori

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The practice of Voodoo: Preserving a world heritage


Dah Jah &

Netiva Caftori

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Koffi Jacob Eric AHOUANSOU (aka Dah-Jah) is an artist and assistant Architect.  He works and lives in Benin. Dah-Jah is initiated in the Cult Egou goun (cult of the dead) and of the Cult Oro (Cult of the protective mother). He is also a musician-singer.

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Hello Benin

Hello Benin

Netiva Caftori, Fulbright scholar to Benin,

West Africa

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Voodoo is a religious tradition originating in West Africa, which became prominent in the New World due to the importation of African slaves.

(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

West African Vodun is the original form of the religion;

Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo are its descendants in the New World.

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  • The Portuguese began trading African slaves in Europe in the 1440s, and by the early 1500s ships filled with slaves captured in Africa began sailing across the Atlantic to the New World.

  • During the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, an estimated 12 million Africans were taken from their continent and brought to the New World and Europe.

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Kouandé, and


They thrived on the commerce of slavery till its abolition in 1807, then on palm oil.

England, Denmark, Portugal and France



Benin, home to ancient kingdoms

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Ouidah, Benin

Mamy Wata, the goddess of the Sea.

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Colonization had initiated a creative process of appropriation, revision, and survival leading to the mutual transformation of two or more pre-existing cultures into a new one 

Contemporary Caribbean cultures.

Preservation of the heritage

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African diaspora

  • Haitian Vodou,

  • the similar Vudu of the Dominican republic,

  • Candomblé in Brazil (which uses the term Vodum),

  • Louisiana Voodoo, (or New Orleans Voodoo),

  • Santería in Cuba, which are syncretized with Christianity,

  • the traditional religions of the Kongo people of Congo and Angola.

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  • Candomblé is practiced chiefly in Brazil.

  • It originated in the city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia.

  • It is also practiced in neighboring countries and is becoming more popular worldwide.

  • The rituals involve the possession of participants by Orishas, animal sacrifices, healing, dancing and drumming.

  • It features aspects of the Yoruba Orisha religion. Orishas are religious deities that are said to represent human characteristics such as bravery, love and honor.

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La Santeria, Regla de Paolo

  • It is comprised of a hierarchical structure according to priesthood level and authority.

  • Orisha "ile" or temples are usually governed by:

  • Orisha Priests known as Babalorishas, "father of orisha", or

  • Iyalorishas, "mothers of orisha", and serve as the junior Ile or second in the hierarchical religious structure.

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Shared characteristics of Creole Religions

  • Monotheism and polytheism (orisha, loas..)

  • A cult of dead ancestors

  • Belief in supernatural power upon objects

  • Animism: Belief in other spirits (like trees)

  • Contacts between humans and spirits through:

  • divination,

  • initiation,

  • sacrifice,

  • spiritual possession, and

  • healings.

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Shared characteristics of Creole Religions (cont.)

  • Consecrated objects are receptacles of divine power.

  • Practice of magic (spells, conjurations, medicine-healing)

  • “Magical accumulation” (with European magic)

  • Music and dance

  • Conscious sense of community

  • Religious leaders

  • Possession live altars

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It is often believed that it is these aspects of the religion, similar in many ways to the Trinity and the intervention of saints and angels, which made Vodun so compatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, in the New World, and produced such strongly syncretistic religions as Haitian Vodou.

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Where it all started:Togo

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Burkina Faso

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Fon, and


peoples of

southeastern Ghana,

southern and central Togo,

southern and central Benin,

and southwestern Nigeria.

The word vodún is the Gbe (Fon-Ewe) word for spirit.

Vodun is practiced by the:

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The Republic of Benin is a small, culturally rich nation in West Africa with an ethnically diverse population and a varied landscape stretching from the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in the south, to the Niger River in the north.

Danhomé (in the entrails of the Snake) is at the origin of all Voodoo cults, known not only as the cradle of the traditional Voodoo but also to have played a great part in the fight against colonial establishment

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Fon (35%),







Peuhl, etc..


Fongbé, Gengné or Mina, Yoruba,

Baatonu, Dendi, Bariba, Adja-gbe, Ayizo-gbe, Ditammari, Tem, Peul

6.2 M Beninese:

Cotonou: 850,000

Porto-Novo: 200,000

Parakou: 110,000

Abomey: 70,000

Natitengou: 60,000

Socio-cultural groups

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Vodun cosmology

Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun, spirits and other elements of divine essence which govern the Earth.

Vodun is essentially monotheistic: Mawu (or Nana Buluku) ---> a dual cosmogenic principle:

  • Mawu, the moon, female

  • Lisa, the sun, male aspects.

    Henotheism: “monotheism in principle; polytheism in fact”

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  • There is a hierarchy of lesser creations, the vodun, which range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, the more impressive of which may be considered sacred.

  • God does not trifle with the mundane, so the vodun are the center of religious life.

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Religion in Benin

  • 30% are Muslims: women are head covered

  • 20% are Christians

  • 50% voodoos

    Most people still practice Vodun which is not just a religion but a culture and a way of life.

    Old secrets though are dying with an aging population of wise men. Women are mostly left out, though they do consult the féticheur.

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Muslim tradition

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It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion. - Senegal

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Vodun ceremony

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Rituals in a particular convent. The oracle (Ague) is behind.

Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested. - Guinea

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Sacred forest

You have 3 friends in this world: courage, sense, and wisdom. - Fon

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Ouidah, Temple of the pythons

Silence is also speech. - Fulfulde

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At the temple of serpents

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Masks used in ceremonies

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What a child says, he has learned at home. - Nigeria

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The young cannot teach tradition to the old. - Yoruba

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On the roof of a tata somba

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Before healing others, heal yourself. - Nigeria

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Zangbettos: Night guards

  • Zan=Night

  • Gbetto=man

  • Protectors of the people of the village of all evil things.

  • They blow a horn to announce their presence.

  • They have no face so wear a straw suit from the head to toes.

  • They are initiated.

  • By respect, women and non-initiated cannot look at them.

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Vodun national holiday, Jan. 10th

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Hurrying and worrying are not the same as strength. - Hausa

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When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion. - Ethiopia

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No one tests the depth of a river with both feet. - Ashanti

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Yoruba Orisha religion

The Yoruba Orisha religion is said to be animistic, or mysterious.

The highest deity, Olodumare, the Creator, is considered to be an unknowable, distant God. It is only his children that deal in the lives of humans. The Orishas, Orixas in Portuguese, are said to "mount", or possess the participant during the rituals.

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When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him. - Ashanti

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He who asks questions cannot avoid the answers. – Cameroon.

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cowrie shells

Being happy is better than being king. - Hausa

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To try and to fail is not laziness. – Sierra Leone

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By going and coming, a bird weaves its nest. - Ashanti

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A child who is to be successful is not reared exclusively on a bed of down. -Akan

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A single bracelet does not jingle. - Congo

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The humble pay for the mistakes of their betters. - Baguirmi

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He who boasts much can do little. - Niger

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The eyes believe themselves; the ears believe others; the heart believes the truth. - Ibo

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Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. -Bondei

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Restless feet may walk into a snake pit. – West africa

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  • To punish a driver who stole customers: cola & grains and his name.

  • To compete with the best student in class: take a page with his writing.

  • To be loved by all (for a few days): wash in chameleon in powder mixed with a dried leaf and soap.

  • To be loved by one’s beloved: eat a recipe using Hahehe plant and recite the virtues and expectations.

  • A plant added to the drink sodabe (like Viagra)

  • Become old or young: some live to 130 w black hair

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Gri-gri (cont.)

  • Fear of poison in one’s drink

  • Soccer game between Nigeria and Kenia during a thunderstorm.

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For news of the heart, ask the face. - Guinea

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You are beautiful; but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty. - Congo

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In the Vodun culture everything from nature has a significance: A fallen dry leaf, a green leaf, the tree itself.

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Hope is the pillar of the world. - Kanuri

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We will water the thorn for the sake of the rose. - Kanem

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Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse. - Nigeria

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The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the town. - Ashanti

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The Divine Will ( DJROLO  MAHOUTON ) in the Fongbé language is most important.Any one respecting the "LAW "( GBèSOU ) in fongbé has divine protection: GBé = LifeSOU = LAW

to = father Gbèto = man (human) or father of life for the initiate (Hounssiyoyo).

Hevi = birdOsso = point, Ozo = fireHeviosso = bird of fire, phoenix


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Vodun and the Divinities of Mythology Greco Romaine

  • The divinity Hèbiosso (Shango in Yoruba) is the god of Lightning, corresponding to Thor, god of War, Scandinavian divinity.

  • The divinity Sakpata is the goddess of the ground; corresponding to Greek Demeter divinity personifying the ground.

  • The divinity Dan is the goddess of fortune, corresponding to Lakshmi, a Hindu divinity.

  • The divinity Gou is the god of the war, corresponding to Vulcan, divinity Greco Romaine of fire and metals.

  • The divinity Nayétè (Mami, water) goddess of richness and love, corresponds to Venus or Aphrodite divinity Greco Romaine, goddess of the beauty and the love.

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Voodoo cults in America derive from the animism imported by former slaves of African extraction. This animism crystallized around the polytheist religion probably the most evolved , at the time, in Africa. When one says “voodoo” one often thinks of black magic or with secret ceremonies.  But the voodoo is before all a great African traditional worship. The voodoo comprises nearly 400 divinities, each one honored according to a particular worship. 

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Resulting from the culture yoruba, the worship vodoun, of the ex-Danxomè (Dahomey in French, or Benin of present day. danhomé: “in the entrails of the Snake”), is at the origin of all voodoo cults which appeared in the islands of the Antilles (Haiti for example) or the countries of Latin America (like Brazil). Benin, a West-African country known not only as the cradle of the traditional Voodoo but also to have played a great part in the fight against colonial establishment

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traditional monotheistic organized religion of coastal West Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana. Benin and Nigeria: Vodun or Vudun (Fon language) Togo and Ghana: the Ewe language Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, etc.

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  • Vodun (capitalized) denotes the religion.

  • vodun denotes the spirits that are central to the religion.

  • Note that “Voodoo", the most common spelling in American popular culture, is often viewed as offensive by practicing communities of the African Diaspora, due to the farcical and often racist depictions of Hollywood.

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Yoruba Orisha religion

The religion was brought over during the Atlantic slave trade by African priests and adherents who were dedicated to the worship of the Yoruba Orishas. Those people were brought as slaves between 1549 and 1850. The slaves united themselves under the Nago name when they arrived. After the arrival of the Yoruba Orishas in Brazil, there was some association with the Catholic Saints and many of the Orixás are now referenced with their Catholic Saints. This religion, like many African religions, is an oral tradition and therefore has not been put into text throughout the years.

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Some myths according to Kenneth Addison

  • African-Americans came from an uncivilized continent (arrived in North America in 1619)

  • Africans came to the Americas only as slaves

  • Only 10 Million African slaves

  • Africans enslaved their own ethnic groups

  • Slavery was coercive but not brutal

  • Slavery does not affect African-Americans today (abolished in 1865 in US)

  • African-Americans have contributed little to America

  • Slavery destroyed African culture

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This is a counterbalance to the notion of acculturation, a one-way imposition of the dominant or conquering nation.


The ongoing and ever changing process of new forms born or developed from the interaction of people and forces due to ”adaptive pressures omnipresent and irresistible” in the Americas.

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Worship in the New World

  • Nanã in Candomblé

  • Worship of the deity spread to the rest of the world, especially through centuries of captured slaves who were purchased and sold all over the Americas. She is celebrated as Nanã in Brazilian Candomblé Ketu, where she is pictured as a very old woman, older than creation itself; as Nana Buruku, primordial swamp spirit in Orisha tradition.

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  • Wikipedia

  • Creole Religions of the Caribbean: an introduction from Vodou to Santeria to Obeah and Espiritismo, by M. Fernandez Olmos &L. Paravisini-Gebert

  • The serpent and the Rainbow, by Wade Davis

  • African Sculptures, by Ladislas Segy

  • Voodoo, a short introduction, by Astrid Reuter

  • The Soul of Africa, by Julie Mars

  • Spirits Speak, African masks, Prestel

  • The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550-1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society, by Robin Law.

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Dressed like a Beninese

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