Ouidah, a place in West Africa, still embraces Voodoo, a practice of witchcraft
The deified residents of the Temple of Pythons, when released to find food sometimes slither across the road into a Catholic church that once hosted Pope Benedict XVI. The local priest, the snake handlers say, is always good enough to call or bring the gorging reptiles back to their own spiritual home.
This is life in Ouidah, a mecca of spirits and gods worshipped by practitioners of Voodoo, a recognised religion in this former French colony in West Africa that is home to 9 million people. The religion has its own pope or two, depending on who you ask whose reign dates back to the 1400s and can be seen about town in his SUV.
Clash of cultures
On Thursday, local banks and the post office closed as the town celebrated its annual Voodoo Festival, an event increasingly drawing curious foreigners. With its mix of beliefs and traditions, the Voodoo practised here shows both a clash of cultures and the ability for ancient traditional beliefs to adapt to modern life.
“It is like we are sending all the evil in the country, on the continent, away,” said Djabassi Manonwomin, a Voodoo priestess who leads others in the worship of a mermaid deity.
Voodoo, also called “vodoun” here, can be seen throughout the streets of Ouidah. One local school proudly identifies itself by the religion. Down the dusty street on a recent day one could see the decapitated head of a monkey, wrapped around a stick, a curse someone had placed near a shrine of a three-head man wrapped by pythons. Voodoo generally does not follow the images from movies and novels from the West, of zombies and possessions.
Borrows from mythology
It borrows heavily from the mythology of Yoruba people of Nigeria’s southwest.
At Manonwomin’s shrine, the walls bear images of the Hindu god Ganesh, as well as the image of an Indian woman praying. Outside, a small offering of bananas and biscuits, doused in perfume, could be seen by her gate outlined in chalk.
The chanting prayers include cries of “Power! Power!”
Though Benin appears to be where slaves brought to America and the Caribbean learned about Voodoo, the nation itself has a mixed history with the religion.
As men prepared to slaughter goats as an offering at a shrine, foreigners raised their own cameras up to catch the moment when worshippers slit the goat’s throat.
Others giggled or looked uncomfortable as they let guides at the python temple place the snakes around their shoulders or atop their head as a reptilian scarf.
Material interests have entered the equation now as well. Peddlers selling African masks and other items surrounded those attending the festival.AP