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West African Vodun

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Vodun or Vudun (spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages, also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, Voodoo etc.) is a traditional organised religion of coastal West Africa from Nigeria to Ghana. Vodun is practised by the Ewe, Kabye, Mina and Fon peoples of southeastern Ghana, southern and central Togo, southern and central Benin and (under a different name) the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria.[1]

It is distinct from the various traditional animistic religions in the interiors of these same countries and is the main origin for religions of similar name found among the African Diaspora in the New World such as Haitian Vodou, the Vudu of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Candomblé in Brazil (which uses the term Vodum), Louisiana Voodoo and Santería in Cuba. All these are syncretized with Christianity and the traditional religions of the Kongo people of Congo and Angola.[2]

Theology and practiceEdit

Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. The vodun are the centre of religious life, similarly in many ways to the cult of intercession of saints and angels that made Vodun compatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, and produced syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou. Adherents also emphasise ancestor worship and hold that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living, each family of spirits having its own female priesthood, sometimes hereditary when is from mother to blood daughter.

Patterns of worship follow various dialects, gods, practices, songs and rituals. Vodun recognises one God with many helpers called Orishas. A single divine Creator, called variously Mawu or Nana Buluku is an androgynous being who in one tradition bore seven children and gave each rule over a realm of nature - animals, earth, and sea - or else these children are inter-ethnic and related to natural phenomena or to historical or mythical individuals. The creator embodies a dual cosmogonic principle of which Mawu the moon and Lisa the sun are respectively the female and male aspects, often portrayed as the twin children of the Creator.

Mawu's youngest child, Legba, was to remain with her and act as a go-between with her other children: in some clans he is young and virile while in Haiti he takes the form of an old man. Other deities might include Mami Wata, god/desses of the waters, Gu, ruling iron and smithcraft, Sakpata, who rules diseases and many others. Eshu, a messenger deity who relays messages between the human world and the world of the Orishas, is depicted as a dark, short man with a large staff and often a pipe, candy or his fingers in his mouth. As the mediator between the gods and the living he maintains balance, order, peace and communication.

All creation is considered divine and therefore contains the power of the divine. This is how medicines such as herbal remedies are understood, and explains the ubiquitous use of mundane objects in religious ritual. Voodoo talismans, called "fetishes", are objects such as statues or dried animal parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Sorcerers and sorceresses called Botono (or Aze/Azetos) are believed to cast spells on enemies on behalf of supplicants, calling upon spirits to bring misfortune or harm to a person or group. Animal sacrifice is a common way to show respect and thankfulness to the gods.

Mama, or Queen Mothers, are usually elder women who are elected by the kingmakers upon the death of the previous Queen Mother and are given the name of one of their highly respected female ancestors. The woman who is chosen is usually the oldest women in her clan, but this tradition may be overruled due to factors such as health, education, and national influence. The responsibilities of a Queen Mother are mostly geared towards activities among women. They take part in the organisation and the running of markets and are also responsible for their upkeep, which is vitally important because marketplaces are the focal points for gatherings and social centres in their communities. In the past when the men of the villages would go to war, the Queen Mothers would lead prayer ceremonies in which all the women attended every morning to ensure the safe return of their menfolk.

DemographicsEdit

About 23% of the population of Benin, some 1 million people, follow Vodun. (This does not count other traditional religions in Benin.) In addition, many of the 41.5% of the population that refer to themselves as Christian practice a syncretized religion, not dissimilar from Haitian Vodou or Brazilian Candomblé; indeed, many of them are descended from freed Brazilian slaves who settled on the coast near Ouidah. In Togo, about half the population practices indigenous religions, of which Vodun is by far the largest, with some two and a half million followers; there may be another million Vodunists among the Ewe of Ghana: 13% of the population of 20 million are Ewe and 38% of Ghanaians practise traditional religion. According to census data, about 14 million people practise traditional religion in Nigeria, most of whom are Yoruba practising Vodun, but no specific breakdown is available.[3]

European colonialism, followed by some of the totalitarian regimes in West Africa, have tried to suppress Vodun as well as other traditional religions.[4] However, because the vodun deities are born to each clan, tribe, and nation, and their clergy are central to maintaining the moral, social and political order and ancestral foundation of its village, these efforts have not been successful. Recently there have been moves to restore the place of Vodun in national society, such as an annual International Vodun Conference held in the city of Ouida in Benin that has been held since 1991.[5]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Ajayi, J.F. and Espie, I. “Thousand Years of West African History" (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1967).
  • Akyea, O.E. "Ewe." New York: (The Rosen Group, 1988).
  • Asamoa, A.K. "The Ewe of South-Eastern Ghana and Togo: On the eve of colonialism," (Ghana: Tema Press. 1986).
  • Ayivi Gam l . Togo Destination. High Commissioner for Tourism. Republic of Togo, 1982.
  • Bastide. R. African Civilizations in the New World. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1971.
  • Decalo, Samuel. "Historical Dictionary of Dahomey" (Metuchen, N.J: The Scarecrow Press, 1976).
  • Deren, Maya. "Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti." (London: Thames and Hudson, 1953).
  • “Demoniacal Possession in Angola, Africa”. Journal of American Folk-lore. Vol VI., 1893. No. XXIII.
  • Ellis, A.B. "Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa" (Chicago: Benin Press, 1965).
  • Fontenot, Wonda. L. "Secret Doctors: Enthnomedicine of African Americans" (Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1994).
  • Hazoum ‚ P. “Doguicimi. The First Dahomean Novel" (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990).
  • Herskovits, M.J. and Hersovits, F.S. Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University,
  • Hindrew, Vivian M.Ed., Mami Wata: African's Ancient God/dess Unveiled. Reclaiming the Ancient Vodoun heritage of the Diaspora. Martinez, GA: MWHS.
  • Hindrew, Vivian M.Ed., Vodoun: Why African-Americans Fear Their Cosmogentic Paths to God. Martinez, GA. MWHS:
  • Herskovits, M.J. and Hersovits, F.S. "An Outline of Dahomean Religious Belief" (Wisconsin: The American Anthropological Association, 1933).
  • Hurston, Zora Neale. "Tell My Horse: Voodoo And Life In Haiti And Jamaica." Harper Perennial reprint edition, 1990.
  • Hyatt M. H. "Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork" (Illinois: Alama Egan Hyatt Foundation, 1973), Vols. I-V.
  • Journal of African History. 36. (1995) pp. 391–417.Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States;
  • Language Guide (Ewe version). Accra: Bureau of Ghana Languages,
  • Manoukian, Madeline. “The Ewe-Speaking People of Togland and the Gold Coast”. London: International African Insittute, 1952.
  • Maupoil, Bernard. "La Geomancie L'ancienne des Esclaves" (Paris: L'universit‚ de Paris, 1943).
  • Metraux, Alfred. "Voodoo In Haiti." (Pantheon reprint edition, 1989)
  • Newbell, Pucket. N. “Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro”. S.C.: Chapel Hill, 1922.
  • Newell, William, W. "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana," Journal of American Folk-lore, 41-47, 1888. p. 41-47.
  • Pliya, J. "Histoire Dahomey Afrique Occidental" (Moulineaux: France, 1970).
  • Slave Society on the Southern Plantation.” The Journal of Negro History. Vol. VII-January, 1922-No.1.

NotesEdit

External linksEdit

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at West African Vodun. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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