Monday, October 26, 2009

A Voodoo Baptism

I’ve really been neglecting the blog. The main reason for that is my busy new life back in the US. But I’m not going to talk about that just yet, since I haven’t finished up with Benin yet. I promised to let you all know what a Beninese voodoo ceremony is like, and I’m a man of my word.

With the end of my stay in Benin quickly approaching, I picked up the pressure on the USAID driver/voodoo priest that I worked with to make something happen. Finally, on my last weekend, he came through. With a little support from the white guy (me), he would perform a type of “baptism” ceremony for a new baby of a young couple who hadn’t yet been able to save enough money to do it. Ever on my guard after years in developing countries, I asked the priest, Noel, to make me a list of the things that would need to be purchased and their prices. The list read:

1 goat $45
cola nuts $20
4 chickens $7
2 bottles of perfume $4
candles $3
1 bottle of gin $7
2 packets of chalk $2.50
1 packet of needles $1
1 packet of razor blades $.30
praying money of your choice

Now initially he had listed a dog or cat for the ceremony, but I object to that one. I was already questioning whether I wanted to watch – and especially pay for – a goat or chickens get killed, but there was no way I was going to have a dog get its throat slit. My curiosity goes pretty far, but I think that’s right about where the line is. In the end, we agreed that the only animals to be sacrificed would be the chickens. Generally, I’m pretty against killing animals for non-nutritional purposes, but I justified my support with the argument that I was just helping with a ceremony that was going to happen anyway. A little weak, I know.

So, what’s a voodoo ceremony like? I’ll disappoint you right now – no pins in dolls, nobody got possessed, and alas, not one single person turned into a lion. There was lots of praying and chanting. At one point, he went to each person and rubbed cola nuts on them. Questions about the person’s future prospects were and asked, and the nuts are thrown on the ground like dice. It’s believed that a god is answering through the nuts (turned up means yes, etc.). The baby’s father, after assuring Noel that he had been treating his wife well, was outed by the nuts. It turns out he’d been out late drinking with his friends. Don’t try to fool the nuts. I’m happy to report that I’m going to very healthy, successful, and wealthy in my life.

The ceremony then moved on to the grim stage, with the slitting of some chicken throats. Just like the SanterĂ­a ceremony I attended in Cuba, the chickens were rubbed on a person to soak up all the bad vibes and then are sacrificed, with the blood poured over idols on the altar.

Finally, the chickens were buried and each person had a chance to make a personal prayer. All in all, a quiet, intimate, and interesting ceremony – even a bit touching at times.


Ivy said...

I need some of those Cola Nuts here in the States! I would threaten every man I date..."Don't make me get those nuts out on you!"
Great story and amazing photo's. I think you did a wonderful job capturing the true beauty of this Voodoo experience. Everyone who can afford it should have a Voodoo Baptism:)I got $5 on the next goat!

ThiRi said...

I wonder whether the animals still feel the same for being killed either for nutritional purposes or non-nutritional purposes!

christa said...

Hi, Nate,
It´s areally interesting description of a voodoo ceremony with great photos.
Many aspects reminded me of what I saw when I went there to visit Togo and Benin. During that tour I took part in several voodoo ceremonies. This tour resulted in a book with 120 pages with 166 photos . The complete book can be previewed on the Internet. Christa Neuenhofer, TOGO AND BENIN: HOMELANDS OF VOODOO ( )

Anonymous said...

uh. interesting .