History of Voodoo in Africa

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  • Topic: Benin, Haitian Vodou, Ritual
  • Pages : 5 (1422 words )
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  • Published : August 22, 2012
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July 29th, 2012Sociology 300

“What Is the Significance of Voodoo to African Science and Philosophy”

Voodoo (Vodun) is a derivative of the world's oldest known religions which have been around in Africa since the beginning of human civilization. Some conservative estimates these civilizations and religions to be over 10 000 years old. This then identify Voodoo as probably the best example of African syncretism in the Americas. Although its essential wisdom originated in different parts of Africa long before the Europeans started the slave trade, the structure of Voodoo, as we know it today, was born in Haiti during the European colonization of Hispaniola.

Voodoo originated in the African kingdoms of Fon and Kongo as many as 6,000 years ago. The word "voodoo" comes from the Fon language, in which it means "sacred," "spirit" or "deity." Other words used in Voodoo today also come from the Fon and Kongo languages. For example, a Voodoo priestess is often referred to as a mambo or manbo. This is a combination of the Fon word for "mother" or "magical charm" and the Kongo word for "healer."

Drummers and singers are an integral part of voodoo ceremonies, acting as the conduit for the spirits to journey into the ceremony like this Gelede mask ceremony you’ll see in Benin, West Africa. The powerful sound evokes the deity to visit voodoo mask dances.

The Fon kingdom was located in what is now southern Benin, a region some anthropologists refer to as the "cradle of Voodoo." People also practice Voodoo in Togo, Ghana and other countries in northwestern Africa. Approximately 30 million people in Togo, Ghana and Benin practice Voodoo today. Voodoo is also an official religion in Benin, where as many as 60 percent of the people are followers.

Voodoo masks are an integral part of African dance ceremonies. The mask dance in Africa is charged with the responsibility of keeping the balance of life between humans and the gods. The mask becomes the living manifestation of the gods, both good and evil. Drummers and singers, who often wear these masks, are a crucial part of voodoo ceremonies, acting as the conduit for the spirits to journey into the ceremony.

African masks are thought of as the resting place for spirits of any kind. The appearance of the mask and the way it is made indicates what type of spirit resides in it. Masks are very highly respected because of this. There are many different types of spirits and each has a different value, and some are even more important than others.

Some Africans believe that masks are actually made by spirits that want to live in them, and that masks materialized overnight. Yet, most know that masks are made by human hands. On a side note, masks are made only by certain male carvers and only men are allowed to wear them.

Travelers come from as far afield as Haiti, the United States and Europe. Libations and prayers are an important part of voodoo. Ouidah, a former slave port on the Atlantic Ocean, some 40 kilometers from Cotonou, Benin's capital city, is known by many as the birthplace of voodoo. Even well-educated Beninois such as Cyrille Sagbo, a Western-trained English teacher, believe in voodoo and attend the festival. He says "Sacrificing a goat is a good way to receive the blessings of the ancestors and keep diseases away from the entire population of Benin, not just the voodoo followers," he told me. The voodoo leader, wearing golden earrings and a black-and-white head scarf, crowned by a conical hat, sits next to his senior priestess, draped in a hand-woven attire. People who practice the tradition believe that life derives from the natural forces of earth, water, fire and air.

In parts of Africa, people who want to become spiritual leaders in the Voodoo community can enter religious centers, which are much like convents or monasteries. In some communities, initiates symbolically die, spending three days and nights in complete...
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