Viruses slow down voodoo festival in Benin

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Grand-Popo (Benin) (AFP)

Benin held its annual voodoo festival on Sunday without the usual large processions after authorities in the West African country banned large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Voodoo, more often called “vodun” in the region, originates from the Kingdom of Dahomey, now Benin and neighboring Togo.

With a hierarchy of deities and tribal nature spirits, ancestral religion uses fetishes, magical practices and healing remedies, considered divine, and revered ancestors are believed to live alongside the living.

Traditional processions held in villages and towns across the country normally attract large crowds of believers as well as onlookers and tourists.

But this year, only small groups of worshipers took part in the celebrations, which were mostly held in voodoo convents.

On the beach of Grand-Popo, a coastal village in southwestern Benin, around fifty worshipers, all masked and observing social distancing, made traditional sacrifices.

“It’s a blessing given to this beach every January 10 and you can’t miss the opportunity for anything in the world,” believer Odilus Sogan told AFP.

“We’re a little disappointed,” added Metowanou Guedehoungue, a voodoo official. “The faithful have been invited to stay at home”.

Normally, “voodoo is celebrated with pomp and grandeur,” he said.

In the economic capital Cotonou, a dignitary of the sea goddess Mami, Hounnon Zekpon, did not lead the usual procession on the city’s Fijorosse beach.

Dressed in white with a matching mask, Zekpon nonetheless stood in the courtyard of his house which serves as a convent, with a dozen believers performing sacrifices.

The pandemic has had little impact on the country of about 11 million people, which has officially recorded some 3,300 cases and 44 deaths. However, the real cost is believed to be higher.

While authorities have hesitated to impose lockdowns, they have banned large gatherings in the former French colony.

Sunday festivities generally followed the rules.

“We don’t want to be the ones blamed for Covid-19 infecting our country,” said Baba Adeniyi, another voodoo dignitary.

He notes that the virus did not surprise him.

In November 2019, Le To Fa, a voodoo oracle, “predicted serious illness for 2020,” he said.

“So we made a lot of sacrifices to ward off bad luck and protect people. ”

According to the latest official figures available, which date from 2013, voodoo practitioners represent only 11% of the Beninese population, against nearly 30% of Muslims and 25% of Christians.

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