West African Vodun

Vodun (meaning spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages, pronounced [vodṹ] with a nasal high-tone u; also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Vodou, Voudou, Voodoo, etc.) is practiced by the Fon people of Benin, and southern and central Togo; as well in Ghana, and Nigeria.

It is distinct from the various traditional African religions in the interiors of these countries and is the main source of religions with similar names found among the African diaspora in the Americas, such as Haitian Vodou; Dominican Vudú; Cuban Vodú; Brazilian Vodum (candomblé jeje and tambor de mina); Puerto Rican Vudú (Sanse); and Louisiana Voodoo.

Theology and practice

A vodoun market in Lomé, Togo, 2008.

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 center of religious life. (Perceived similarities with Roman Catholic doctrines such as the intercession of saints and angels allowed Vodun to appear compatible with Catholicism, and helped produce syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou.) Adherents also emphasize 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 it's from mother to blood daughter.

Patterns of worship follow various dialects, spirits, practices, songs, and rituals. The divine Creator, called variously Mawu or Mahu, is a female being. She is an elder woman, and usually a mother who is gentle and forgiving. She is also seen as the god who owns all other gods and even if there is no temple made in her name, the people continue to pray to her, especially in times of distress. In one tradition, she bore seven children. Sakpata: Vodun of the Earth, Xêvioso (or Xêbioso): Vodun of Thunder, also associated with Divine Justice[1], Agbe: Vodun of the Sea, Gû: Vodun of Iron and War, Agê: Vodun of Agriculture and Forests, Jo: Vodun of Air, and Lêgba: Vodun of the Unpredictable.[2]

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.[3]Lisa is the sun god who brings the day and the heat, and also strength and energy. Mawu, the moon goddess, provides the cool of the night, peace, fertility, and rain.To give this in a summed aspect, a proverb says ‘When Lisa punishes Mawu forgives.[4]

Legba is often represented as a phallus or as a man with a prominent phallus. Known as the youngest son of Mawu, he is the chief of all Vodun divinities[5]; in his Diasporic portrayal, Legba is believed to be a very old man who walks on crutches.[6] Being old he is seen as wise, but when seen as a child he is one who is rebellious. It is only through contact with Legba that it becomes possible to contact the other gods, for he is the guardian at the door of the spirits.[7] Dan, who is Mawu's androgynous son, is represented as a rainbow serpent, and was to remain with her and act as a go-between with her other creations. As the mediator between the spirits and the living, Dan maintains balance, order, peace and communication.

Other popular Lwa, or spiritual entities include Azaka who rules over agriculture, Erzuli has domain over love, and Ogoun who is in charge of war, defense and who stands on guard.[8]

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. Vodun talismans, called "fetishes", are objects such as statues or dried animal or human parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Specifically, they are objects inhabited by spirits. The entities that inhabit a fetish are able to perform different tasks according to their stage of development. Fetish objects are often combined together in the construction of "shrines", used to call forth specific vodun and their associated powers.[9]


The Queen Mother is the first daughter of a matriarchal lineage of a family collective. She holds the right to lead the ceremonies incumbent to the clan: marriages, baptisms and funerals. She is one of the most important members of community. She will lead the women of a village when her family collective is the ruling one. 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.

The high priestess is the woman chosen by the oracle to care for the convent. Priestesses, like priests, receive a calling from an oracle, which may come at any moment during their lives. They will then join their clan's convent to pursue spiritual instruction. It is also an oracle that will designate the future high priest and high priestess among the new recruits, establishing an order of succession within the convent. Only blood relatives were allowed in the family convent; strangers are forbidden. In modern days, however, some of the rules have been changed, enabling non family members to enter what is described as the first circle of worship. Strangers are allowed to worship only the spirits of the standard pantheon.


About 17% of the population of Benin, some 1.6 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.[10]

In Togo, about half the population practices indigenous religions, of which Vodun is by far the largest, with some 2.5 million followers; there may be another million Vodunists among the Ewe of Ghana, as a 13% of the total Ghana 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 Ifá, but no specific breakdown is available.[10]

European colonialism, followed by some of the totalitarian regimes in West Africa, have tried to suppress Vodun as well as other traditional religions.[11] 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 Ouidah in Benin that has been held since 1991.[12]



Vodun altar with several fetishes in Abomey, Benin.

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2016

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2016

Akodessawa Fetish Market 2008

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2008

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2008

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2008

Akodessawa Fetish Market 2005

Booth at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2005

Skulls at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2008

Skulls for Voodoo rituals

Akodessawa Fetish Market 2016

paraphernalia and dolls for Voodoo

Skulls at Akodessawa Fetish Market 2016

Skulls at Akodessawa Fetish Market

Preparation of a bat at Akodessawa Fetish Market for Voodoo rituals

Preparation of a bat at Akodessawa Fetish Market for Voodoo rituals

See also


  1. ^ Ojo, J.O. (1999). Understanding West African Traditional Religion. S.O. Popoola Printers. p. 63. ISBN 978-978-33674-2-5. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  2. ^ Anthony B. Pinn (2017-10-15). Varieties of African American Religious Experience: Toward a Comparative Black Theology. Fortress Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-1506403366.
  3. ^ Anthony B. Pinn (2017-10-15). Varieties of African American Religious Experience: Toward a Comparative Black Theology. Fortress Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-1506403366.
  4. ^ Parrinder, Edward (2014). West African Religion; a Study of the Beliefs and Practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples. Wipf & Stock.
  5. ^ Herskovits, Melville J, and Frances S. Herskovits. Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. , 1958. Print. pg. 139-140
  6. ^ Ferère, Gérard (1978). HAITIAN VOODOO: ITS TRUE FACE. Caribbean Quarterly.
  7. ^ Owusu, Heike (2003). Voodoo Rituals: a User's Guide. Sterling.
  8. ^ Kuss, Malena (2007). Music in Latin America and the Caribbean. Austin, TX: Universe of Music.
  9. ^ Landry, Timothy (2016). "Incarnating Spirits, Composing Shrines, and Cooking Divine Power in Vodún". Material Religion. 12: 50–73. doi:10.1080/17432200.2015.1120086.
  10. ^ a b "CIA Fact Book: Benin". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  11. ^ Oswald, Hans-Peter (2009). Vodoo. Books on Demans.
  12. ^ Forte, Jung Ran (2010). Percy C. Hintzen, Jean Muteba Rahier, and Felipe Smith (eds.). Vodun Ancestry, Diaspora Homecoming, and the Ambiguities of Transnational Belongings in the Republic of Benin. Global Circuits of Blackness: Interrogating the African Diaspora. University of Illinois Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-252-07753-1.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)

Further reading

  • 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).
  • 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,
  • Maupoil, Bernard. "La Geomancie L'ancienne des Esclaves" (Paris: L'université 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.
  • Barreiro, Daniel, Garcia, Diego. "Nuit: una vision de la continuidad ancestral (spanish edition)". Montevideo, Uruguay, 2014
  • 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.

External links


Adja may refer to:

Aja people of west Africa, mainly residents of Benin

Abbreviation of Adjassou-Linguetor, a loa in the religion of West African Vodun


Adya is a given name in India. It means the Goddess of Power (Adya - Shakti). It means "First" in Sanskrit.In Russian, it is a diminutive of the male first names Avdey and Avdiky.It is shared by the following people:

Adya Rangacharya (1904–1984), Indian writer, actor, and scholar

Zaskia Adya Mecca (b. 1987), Indonesian actress

Adya Houn'tò

Adya Hount'tò is a loa associated with drumming in West African Vodun.


Agassou (also Ati-A-Sou) is a loa, or deity, who guards the old traditions of Dahomey in the West African Vodun religion and the rada loa of Haitian Vodou.

Agbagli Kossi

Agbagli Kossi (1935-1991) was a Togolese sculptor, whose work was representative of the West African Vodun art tradition. He was born in Bè, a district of Lomé, and became an eminent figure among the vodou circles of Togo. He was particularly noted for his little wooden voodoo figures, painted mostly with pink lacquer, and occasionally white. He produced many examples of statuettes of twins, and children with their mothers, known as venavi.Kossi exhibited at the Magiciens de la terre exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1989 and in 1991 his work was shown at an exhibition in Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. In 2008 his work appeared at the Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas showcasing at the Fowler Museum of UCLA in Los Angeles. Today, his work is represented in The Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC).

Akan religion

Akan religion comprises the traditional beliefs and religious practices of the Akan people of Ghana and eastern Ivory Coast. Akan religion is referred to as Akom (from the Twi word okom, meaning "prophecy"). Although most Akan people have identified as Christians since the early 20th century, Akan religion remains practiced by some, and is often syncretized with Christianity. The Akan have many subgroups (including the Ashanti, the Akuapem, the Wassa, the Abron, the Anyi, and the Baoulé, among others), so the religion varies greatly by region and subgroup.

Similar to other traditional religions of West and Central Africa such as West African Vodun, Yoruba religion, or Odinani, Akan cosmology consists of a senior god who generally does not interact with humans and many gods who assist humans.

Anansi the Spider is a folk hero, who is prominent in Ashanti folktales, where he is depicted as a trickster. In other aspects of Akan spirituality, Anansi is also sometimes considered both a trickster and a deity associated with wisdom, responsible for creating the first inanimate humans, according to the scholar Anthony Ephirim-Donkor.. This is similar to Legba, who is also both a trickster and a deity in West African Vodun.


Attitogon or Atitogan is a canton and village in the Lacs Prefecture in the Maritime Region of south-eastern Togo.

Candomblé Jejé

Candomblé Jejé, also known as Brazilian Vodum, is one of the major branches (nations) of Candomblé. It developed in the Portuguese Empire among Fon and Ewe slaves. Jejé is a Yoruba word meaning stranger, which is what the Fon and Ewe slaves represented to the Yoruba slaves.

Cuban Vodú

Cuban Vodú, also known as La Regla de Arará, is a syncretic religion of Caribbean origin which developed in the Spanish Empire. It is a religion formed from the blending of Fon and Ewe beliefs and Dahomey religion along with influences form Haitian Vodou. Loa are worshiped by the religion's practitioners. Even though much of the practices come from Haitian immigrants bringing Haitian Vodou to Cuba the Cuban practices differ in some ways. For instance: feats of strength are more common in ceremonies and dance movements differ. Cuban Vodú is composed of three divisions: the Indigenous American Division, whose spirits are of American origin (usually refers to Taíno spirits); the African Division, whose spirits are of African origin (usually Fon and Ewe spirits); and the European Division, whose spirits are of European origin (usually Spanish spirits).

Dahomean religion

The Dahomean religion was practiced by the Fon people of the Dahomey Kingdom. The kingdom existed until 1898 in what is now the country of Benin. Slaves taken from Dahomey to the Caribbean used elements of the religion to form Vodou and other religions of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

Demographics of Benin

The demographics of Benin include population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

The majority of Benin’s 10.87 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 62 years.

About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and have also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include:

the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from what is now Nigeria in the 12th century);

the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from what is now Mali in the 16th century);

the Bariba and the Fula (or Fulani) (Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peul) in the northeast;

the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range;

the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central; and

the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from what is now Togo in the 12th century) on the coast.French is the official language but is spoken more in urban than in rural areas. The literacy rate is 52.2% among adult males and 23.6% among adult females; these rates are slowly growing. Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin, including Nigerians, Togolese and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies, foreign aid missions, nongovernmental organizations and missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Traditional African religions are widespread (50%), and their practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice traditional African religion traditions. It is believed that West African Vodun originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.

Dominican Vudú

Dominican Vudú, also known as Las 21 Divisiones (21 Divisions), is a syncretic religion of Caribbean origin which developed on the island of Hispaniola.

Haitian Vodou

Haitian Vodou (, French: [vodu], also written as Vaudou ; known commonly as Voodoo , sometimes as Vodun , Vodoun , Vodu , or Vaudoux ) is a syncretic religion practiced chiefly in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Practitioners are called "vodouists" (French: vodouisants [voduizɑ̃]) or "servants of the spirits" (Haitian Creole: sèvitè).Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable Supreme Creator, Bondye (derived from the French term Bon Dieu, meaning "good God"). According to Vodouists, Bondye does not intercede in human affairs, and thus they direct their worship toward spirits subservient to Bondye, called loa. Every loa is responsible for a particular aspect of life, with the dynamic and changing personalities of each loa reflecting the many possibilities inherent to the aspects of life over which they preside. To navigate daily life, vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the loa through the presentation of offerings, the creation of personal altars and devotional objects, and participation in elaborate ceremonies of music, dance, and spirit possession.Vodou originated in what is now Benin and developed in the French colonial empire in the 18th century among West African peoples who were enslaved, when African religious practice was actively suppressed, and enslaved Africans were forced to convert to Christianity. Religious practices of contemporary Vodou are descended from, and closely related to, West African Vodun as practiced by the Fon and Ewe. Vodou also incorporates elements and symbolism from other African peoples including the Yoruba and Kongo; as well as Taíno religious beliefs, Roman Catholicism, and European spirituality including mysticism and other influences.In Haiti, some Catholics combine aspects of Catholicism with aspects of Vodou, a practice forbidden by the Church and denounced as diabolical by Haitian Protestants.


In the West African Vodun religion, Sobo (Alternative Name: Grande Sobo) is a soldier-loa who rules over thunder.Sobo is a spirit or loa in the Haitian Vodou religion. He is the spirit of thunder and is always depicted and served with his inseparable companion/brother Bade, who is the spirit of wind. Together they are represented by the Catholic image of Saints Cosmas and Damian. He is probably West African in origin and a flaming ram is his symbol.


A tanbou (Haitian Creole pronunciation: [tãbu]) is the national musical instrument and type of barrel drum from Haiti. The drum is used in many music genres of Haiti and has been influential in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin American world.

The Rough Guide to Voodoo

The Rough Guide To Voodoo is a world music compilation album originally released in 2013 featuring music inspired and influenced by the Voodoo religious tradition (from West African Vodun to New World Haitian Vodou, Louisiana Voodoo, and related movements). Part of the World Music Network Rough Guides series, the album contains two discs: an overview of the genre on Disc One, and a "bonus" Disc Two highlighting Erol Josué. Disc One features four American tracks, two each from Brazil, Haiti, and Cuba, and one each from Trinidad and Benin. The collection was compiled by Dan Rosenberg and was produced by Phil Stanton, co-founder of the World Music Network.

Vodun art

Vodun art is associated with the West African Vodun religion of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. The term is sometimes used more generally for art associated with related religions of West and Central Africa and of the African diaspora in Brazil, the Caribbean and the United States. Art forms include bocio, carved wooden statues that represent supernatural beings and may be activated through various ritual steps, and Asen, metal objects that attract spirits of the dead or other spirits and give them a temporary resting place. Vodun is assimilative, and has absorbed concepts and images from other parts of Africa, India, Europe and the Americas. Chromolithographs representing Indian deities have become identified with traditional Vodun deities and used as the basis for murals in Vodun temples. The Ouidah '92 festival, held in Benin in 1993, celebrated the removal of restrictions on Vodun in that country and began a revival of Vodun art.

Diverse roots


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