- Benin is gearing for its annual voodoo festival in the capital, Porto-Novo
- Voodoo, often called ‘vodun’, sees revered ancestors living alongside the living
- Practitioners of voodoo account for 11 per cent of Benin’s population
In his long life, voodoo priest Kpohinto Medji has seen his religion flourish and then go into decline, banned for years by the authorities and pressured by other faiths.
Today, the ageing priest with mischievous eyes is somewhat happier.
Benin in West Africa is gearing for its annual voodoo festival – an event that lures an influx of visitors to the capital Porto-Novo and underscores voodoo’s comeback in the country of its birth.
Benin is gearing for its annual voodoo festival – an event that lures an influx of visitors to the capital, Porto-Novo. Pictured are traditional handcrafted wooden statuettes sold at the festival
Houngo Hounto Square is among a number of squares once owned by voodoo-worshipping families that are being renovated.
Painters have been putting the finishing touches to its ochre walls ahead of the January 10 festival, and fetishes and tokens of the old religion are proudly on display.
‘Before, it was a run-down, abandoned square,’ the old priest said, speaking in the local language of Goun. ‘Today, it’s lovely.’
Sacred: Priestesses in Porto-Novo give offerings to a voodoo idol
Voodoo, more often called ‘vodun’ in West Africa, has a hierarchy of deities and tribal spirits of nature and sees revered ancestors living alongside the living.
It uses fetishes, magical practices and healing remedies, which followers consider to be divine.
But its rituals have often been distorted by Hollywood, which tends to stereotype the religion as a source of black magic.
Dilapidated squares owned by voodoo-worshipping households are being renovated. They are a vital part of social and spiritual life in Porto-Novo
Years of decline
In Benin itself, voodoo was battered by French colonisation, when Catholic missionaries demonised it.
A dozen years after Benin gained independence, voodoo was banned by Mathieu Kerekou, a Marxist-Leninist who came to power in a military coup.