Voodoo Holiday and Muslim Praying in Kolokondé

Trip Start Sep 22, 2003
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Trip End Dec 13, 2005


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Monday, January 24, 2005

Hey everyone! We hope you are having a good new year so far. We just wanted to fill you in on some cultural activities that we have witnessed.

January 10 was a national holiday, the holiday of Voodoo. So down in the south, where more practicing voodoo is present, I'm sure there were lots of interesting things going on. However, through asking our good friend Dassibou what usually happens on this day, we got invited to his family's annual sacrifice to the fetish.

I can't remember how much we've already written about this topic, so I'll start from the beginning. Benin is known for the birth of voodoo. The people here were the first to practice voodoo. It was the slaves that brought it over to Haiti, the US and other countries where slavery was practiced. What is voodoo? The only thing as Americans that we think of is a voodoo doll. Right? Well, I'm not sure they have those here. Voodoo, or animism, is a religion in which all things have spirits. Thus, there are spirits for the harvests, for the rains, for the heat, etc. The ancestors are closely tied with these spirits and must be respected as well. If things are not going well, it's because the spirits and/or ancestors are not happy. There are things called fetishes that represent the spirits, and one pays homage to it for spiritual protection by giving it food and/or drink. They are often mounds of dirt with a stick coming out of it, located in a special location. For example, there is a fetish in front of our concession that was made in a ceremony asking the spirits to help heal our family's brother during his sickness. There are often fetishes near baobob trees because these trees are considered sacred. Also, fetishes can be skulls or other odd trinkets found in a special part of the market. These types of fetishes are probably used in special fetish ceremonies and worn for spiritual protection. Someone who practices voodoo tends to be very superstitious about certain things. For example, one does not sweep at night because he would be sweeping away his ancestors who visit at night.

That is just a quick overview of the religion itself. So at Dassibou family's ceremony, we walked out to the fetish, which is located outside the village under some trees. It was a large mound of dirt. We were asked to sit in the back a little distance away from the activities, but were still able to witness everything happening. The people all gathered around. There were about 20 people in all, all of which are members of Dassibou's mother's family. Dassibou's mother was the only woman present, all others were men. When we asked about this, Dassibou said it was because she's the only woman who is really from that family. The men all wore normal clothing, their pants and shirts, some wore traditional clothing. But Dassibou mother changed so that she wore only her pagne, or wrap that covered her chest and legs. So they all gathered around, and an older man began talking. He said they were present to ask the fetish for all the good things this year: good health, wealth, and success. After he finished talking, Dassibou's mother took a calabash of water and corn flour, mixed it together, and poured/dripped it all over the fetish. Others took turns doing it, making sure to drip it evenly throughout the fetish. Then they did the same with tchuk (the local beer made of millet) and drank some themselves. While they poured, they talked to the fetish, again asking for good luck for the New Year. Then we were offered tchuk and drank with everyone. Then they brought out the chicken. Its head was chopped off and the blood was dripped over the fetish. The chicken was plucked and then roasted over a small fire they made close to the fetish. The head was left for the fetish, but all the people, including us, enjoyed the meat. Then they brought out the goat. It was also beheaded and skinned, roasted, and eaten. The blood was given to the fetish. All the while we were amazed that this type of thing does actually go on in our village. This is what we've been wanting to see: an authentic voodoo ceremony, and the sacrifices were added bonuses! So after all the ceremony ritual, we walked back in the village and drank more tchuk with everyone. A certain family member asked us to eat, so we had the local pâte and sauce with beef. After a full day of hanging out and chatting with this family and the other villagers, we headed back home and rested. Wow what a day. How many people get to see something like that? Dassibou was very kind to let us share in that. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos, except after we had left the grounds of the fetish. But we'll forever have the images in our heads.

This past week we decided to travel to see our friend Michelle in her village, Kolokondé. It is south of Natitingou, north of Djougou, for anyone looking at a map. We arrived before the day of Tabaski, a Muslim holiday. Islam is very prominent in her area, so this holiday was a very big deal. So we put on our nicest traditional clothing, us girls covered our heads well (complying to the practice of women dressing modest and covering their hair), and we set off for the prayer. Because the holiday draws in so many people, the prayer was not held in the mosque, but in a field. Jason decided to join in the prayer with some of Michelle's male friends. So we stood in back and watched the prayer, Jason mixed in the line of Muslim men praying to Allah. The imam says the prayer over a loud speaker while everyone chants with him, "Allah is God". During the prayer, one moves from standing, to bowing at the waist, to kneeling, to bowing from a kneeling position and touching your forehead to the ground. It is really cool to see a mass of people doing it all at one time. The cycle happens a few times, and then the prayer is over. Jason really enjoyed doing the prayer, and said, "when else will I be able to join in a Muslim prayer?" Then the imam made a speech, chanting words of prayer and hope for prosperity for the people. Once finished, they make the first goat sacrifice. We were lucky enough to get in the very front to see how it's done. They grab the goat's feet, hold him down and and slit it's throat. Luckily we were able to get lots of good pictures of it all. Then, everyone went home and killed their goats that they had bought for the holiday and cooked them. So we thought it would be a good analogy to Thanksgiving and the killing of the turkey. (Although the turkey is already dead.) Tabaski is the goat-eating holiday. So we ate lots of good goat as well as other meat, served always with rice and a red sauce. We joked that since goats are often a huge annoyance (always walking on our porches and leaving behind lots of smelly "presents", trying to eat everything, including our garden, always trying to get in the family's cistern of drinking water, and having really loud calls to each other at anytime of day or night) that we didn't mind sacrificing a few of them, and the fact that they were goat would make it taste so much better. After the holiday, Jason had to get back to Matéri for a meeting, but I was able to stick around with Michelle and really get to know her village. We didn't do too much, just walk around village and greet the people. I got to know a little Dendi, the language spoken there. And we also just hung out in her house, which was nice. We would stay up talking until about midnight and then sleep in until 9:00, and then sit around and sip tea and play scrabble. It was a nice visit. Now it will be hard going back to the Matéri schedule of waking by 7AM and sleeping by 9PM!

Also, the photos from our Ghana and Kenya trip are now online! Again, we thank Eric, Jason's brother for all his hard work in picking the best ones and taking the time to up load them onto the website. When looking at them, you may want to review the travlpods for the corresponding photos, especially for Ghana and Kenya. The website is here:

http://community.webshots.com/album/251580204efuXYF


Enjoy! We'll be at post for another few weeks. We hope all of you are doing well.
Love,
Rebecca and Jason
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