Voodoo is an official religion in Benin and it is very strong in Togo, and you can see the signs of it everywhere. Less so in large cities like Lome and Cotonou, but in the country side fetishes and other voodoo artefacts are like boulangeries in France – on every corner.
While in Togo we visited a lot of sacred places and tried to understand the ways of Voodoo, but it was not coming easy. You get a lot of contradictive or unclear answers, all the names of divinities are mixing up and so without pre-reading any literature on the subject, we had a very vague understanding of it all.
I think the real breakthrough happenned during our guided tour in Taneka Koko – a village in Northern Benin that is partucular because due to its strategic location it provided shelter to it’s inhabitants during attacks from Nigerian kingdom and other adversaries.
It was interesting to see the remainings of barricades and the cave that served a main hiding place. But the highlight was to meet the real chief fetish master of the village and learn more about this title.
The lore of a fetish master is usually given from father to son. Fetish master never wears clothes made of fabric, only animal skins and plants. Everything he wears or uses is made by himself. Chief fetish master of the village is regarded higher than the local king, he is performing all the major ceremonies and is the main doctor of the community. Chief fetish master foresee his death one year before, and will use this time to prepare his successor. Generally fetish masters live long, the one we met was 96 and looked very agile.
Voodoo tradition is a lot like I imagine magic and it mixes well with Christianity and Islam, e.g. Christian person will diligently go to church and sing his\her prayers, while performing all the voodoo rituals and spells. Fetish master however is pure voodoo. There is another significant figure in Voodoo tradition – Fa. Fa is more a spiritual guide, he will give you advice and help you understand things, when chief fetish master is more hands on – he will make different amulets, medicines, perform rituals, etc.
Here are some of the examples of Voodoo potions that fetish master can make for you:
Dry chameleon: make a powder, mix with herbs and make a soap. Washing with this soap brings you luck.
Powdered head of a monkey brings you good memory
Skull of a buffalo or a horse give you strength good for sport
Turtle from asthma and other lungth diseases
The potions are applied in different ways, e.g. soap, drink or as a vaccine. Fetish master will make little cuts on the back of your hand using a viper tooth and massage the powder in, so it gets into your blood.
All these ingridients, live and dried animals, you can buy on a fetish market, that is a common thing accross the country.
Here is another funky example: sometimes next to little private gardens you can find an anti-stealing artefact made of combination of various objects, dead animals and plants. This is a anti-stealing spell which will bring immediate death or desease on everyone who would venture to steal from the protected garden.
So we have a fetish master with all his potions, medications and spells, we have Fa with his spiritual advice, and there is another important element: fetish itself. It is an object (can be a statue, a tree or just a lump of clay) that has a divinity in it, so you come to see one to ask for stuff, perform rituals and to make secrifices and spill blood on them, if your ask is fulfilled.
Our first encounter with real fetish was in Togovile, but travelling further through Togo and Benin we realised that there are many different types of them and they have different divinities in them – that is why you come with different querries to different fetishes, after consulting a fetish master first.
Very interesting was to learn about Legba – as we were explained, Legba is a guardian of the gate and translator between the world of spirits and us. It can be a person, and if it is – the person will go into a deep transe and will start speaking the language of the divinity or a dead person back to you. This is how you can communicate with the spirits of the loved ones that have left this world. Interesting that the person who serves Legba might not speak the language of the spirit, but when in transe it just comes out. By the way, when an old person dies funeral is usually a happy celebration of new incarnation and new life that this person will take.
In summary: Voodoo tradition is very intricate and full of magic. After spending 21 days here, i feel we only scratched the surface and confused a lot of things anyway. It is impossible to comprehend with rational mind, and yet local people of our age and younger do follow it and gave us some miracle examples of how it works for them. They also told us that some do not like Voodoo, as it can be used for good and for bad things.
We are now out of action for the last 3 days, suffering a horrible flu, and yesterday turned to western medicine, 6th sensation is telling me we are not ready to see a Voodoo master yet.