In Benin, the animist Voodoo religion is omnipresent. Far from the obscure or evil character that is often attributed to it, especially by Western societies, Voodoo is understood as a religion in its own right that draws its sources from an afterlife populated by deities and ancestors, its etymology referring to the « invisible world ».
Voodoo (or Vodoun in Fon language) originated in the Kingdom of Dahomey, in West Africa, born from the meeting of Yoruba (Nigeria), Fon (Benin) and Ewe (Togo) cults. With the slave trade, it was exported in the 17th century to the Americas and the Caribbean, and can now be found in Haiti, Brazil and Louisiana (USA).
Gathering multiple cults, Voodoo is practiced differently depending on the place and the family practising it. A cult may be turned towards one or more deities, towards its ancestors and "revenants", or often towards both at the same time. Each cult is also subject to an initiation, which gives access to a series of instructions, events and ceremonies. In Benin, Voodoo is practiced on a daily basis, and although it is transmitted largely orally and through rituals, it is entirely consistent with the precepts of a religion. Unlike « religions of the book », Voodoo can be superimposed onto others, such as Christianity or Islam. Most of the Voodoo events and gatherings for the past months will have suffered from the sanitary measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In practice, Voodoo is based on the major figure of the "bokonon", or priest of the Fa.
The Fa is understood as a divinatory art that allows one to consult the afterlife, and thus to take the advice of deities and ancestors. The Fa is generally consulted at the time of a significant event in the life of a person or family, or before an important decision.
During a consultation, the bokonon uses a string of shells, which he throws to obtain different combinations; these guide him in his exchanges with the afterlife. He recites prayers, most often in Yoruba, and in return receives images that he is responsible for interpreting. These images feed a fable whose moral will serve as a guide for the person consulting him. Finally, the bokonon draws up a list of ingredients to be collected for a sacrifice that should enable him to attract the favors of the deities and ancestors or "free the way" to happiness and success.
Following a consultation with the Fa, or on the initiative of the cult leader, a sacrifice is planned in order to attract the favors from the afterlife, or give thanks for favorable auspices.
During the consultation, the bokonon (priest of the Fa), draws up a list of ingredients that the person coming to consult is required to gather for the sacrifice. The list of ingredients will usually consist of animals (often one or two fowl), red oil (palm oil), sodabi (a liquor obtained by distilling palm wine, a traditional drink in Benin), beer, water, kola nuts, sometimes also pieces of animal skin or skeletons, insects, and other small objects or foodstuffs. The animals, although killed for sacrifice, are then eaten at a family meal. In fact, the greater the request made to the bokonon, the greater the sacrifice.