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Benin’s Renowned Voodoo Festival Wows Tourists

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On Benin’s national voodoo holiday, known locally as Fête du Vodoun, Benin residents celebrate the nation’s history surrounding the West African religion of Vodoun. The festival attracts tourists across the African Diaspora, including America, Brazil and the Caribbean.

Taking place predominantly in the city of Ouidah, the Jan. 10 celebrations kicked off with the slaughter of a goat in honor of the spirits. Vodoun was officially declared a religion in Benin in 1996. Since then, thousands of Beninese and tourists alike come together on the same day each year to sing, dance and partake in the drinking of gin.

“They come in increasing numbers because voodoo is no longer considered sorcery, it is no longer considered barbarism,” said voodoo spiritual leader Daagbo Hounon Houna II via Reuters.

Vodou originated in the Dahomey kingdom, which in present-day is recognized as Benin and Togo. Voodoo remains widely practiced in the region alongside Christianity.

Followers, clad in traditional robes and gowns, observed “Zangbeto” rituals. Zangbeto are the traditional voodoo guardians of the night among the Ogu (or Egun) people of Benin, Togo and Nigeria. Close by is an arch, the “Door of No Return,” a tribute to the ancestors who were crammed onto slave ships from Ouidah’s beach. Francis Ahouissoussi, a Benin sociologist specializing in religious issues, explains this attachment of descendants of enslaved Africans as “a natural need that they must fill.”

Voodoo, which literally means “spirit,” was created during the slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. When enslaved Africans were shipped to Haiti, they brought with them their ancient traditions of Western Africa.

Enslaved Africans were baptized as Roman Catholics by their captors upon their arrival in the West Indies because Europeans viewed their traditional religious practices as a threat to the colonial system. If caught practicing their religion, they were whipped or even hung. However, in secret, Africans continued to practice Voodoo, disguising their loa (spirits) as acceptable Catholic saints.

“Our ancestors foresaw this return of Afro-descendants. They are eagerly awaited by the ghosts of our ancestors,” said Hounnongan Viyeye Noumaze Gbetoton, one of the Vodoun dignitaries in Ouidah, per AFP.

Voodoo is practiced by around 12% of the West African country’s population of 13 million people.

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