Voodoo festival of Benin | The Wider Image

January 22, 2016

voodoobenin

In Ouidah, a small town and former slave port in the West African country of Benin, the annual voodoo festival gathers visitors from far and wide.

It’s a week that brings together priests and dignitaries, rich and poor, locals and visitors from as far afield as the Caribbean and France.

The festival commemorates the estimated 60 million people who lost their homelands and their freedom during the African slave trade.

Slaves were transported from the port town on the Atlantic from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and other parts of West Africa.

A devotee holds down a ram with his feet after killing it as a sacrifice.

The traditional African religion of voodoo, which spread to the Americas with the slave trade, combines elements including philosophy and medicine.

The central belief of voodoo is that everything is spirit, including humans.

A devotee holds up a ram before killing it as a sacrifice in front of a shrine.

Voodoo is closely related to other belief systems and religions I have seen across Africa, especially back home in Nigeria.

The annual Ouidah gathering on 10 January has been a national holiday in Benin for more than 20 years.

The gathering includes traditional dance and animal sacrifices at shrines, with some devotees entering trance states. The peak of the festival is in the last two days.

Devotees offer dances to the spirits, often with bodies decorated with local powder and palm oil.

There are those who find the initiation ceremonies of voodoo, the animal sacrifices, the bloodletting and the use of fetishes unsettling.

A knife lies near a bowl after a ram was killed as a sacrifice in front of a shrine.

Although many voodoo practices have been modified over the years, I have heard people, especially those who follow Christianity and Islam, voice their doubts.

Whatever your opinion of voodoo, it’s hard to ignore the energy and devotion of its followers at a gathering like this.

A devotee holds a voodoo doll during a traditional street procession to a shrine.

The Ouidah festival looks set to remain a regular fixture in Benin’s religious and cultural calendar.

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SLIDESHOW

A voodoo shrine is seen in a street during the annual voodoo festival in Ouidah, Benin.

A voodoo shrine is seen in a street during the annual voodoo festival in Ouidah, Benin.

Devotees are seen at the entrance of a shrine in Kpasse forest.

Devotees are seen at the entrance of a shrine in Kpasse forest.

A carved door marks the entrance to a building in Ouidah.

A carved door marks the entrance to a building in Ouidah.

A statue is seen at the Kpasse shrine.

A statue is seen at the Kpasse shrine.

Locally-made brooms are displayed for sale outside a building in Ouidah.

Locally-made brooms are displayed for sale outside a building in Ouidah.

A statue stands on a plinth at the Kpasse shrine.

A statue stands on a plinth at the Kpasse shrine.

Devotees kill a goat as a sacrifice during the festival.

Devotees kill a goat as a sacrifice during the festival.

People watch as traditional drummers perform.

People watch as traditional drummers perform.

A masquerade dancer is seen during the festival.

A masquerade dancer is seen during the festival.

A devotee dances.

A devotee dances.

A masqueraded dancer is seen during the festival.

A masqueraded dancer is seen during the festival.

Source: Voodoo festival of Benin | The Wider Image | Reuters

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