Ghosts and Ancestors
Religion and spirituality occupy a prominent place in the daily life of the Beninese people. Many religions exist side by side, the three main ones being animism (Voodoo), Christianity (Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical religions), and Islam.
The country’s official religion and traditional form of worship is animism (Voodoo), which is practiced by 80% of the people. Forty-three percent of Beninese practice Christianity, while followers of Islam constitute 24% of the population.
The role of ancestors and spirits is considered to be of great importance among the people of Benin, not only in their rituals and customs, but also in their decision-making process. For this reason, Voodoo is highly esteemed when seeking wise counsel.
The Religion of Voodoo
Voodoo is a religion that has its origins in the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey (Benin). It represents an expression of the spirituality of millions of the African victims of the 16th century slave trade who were deported to the colonies of the New World to serve as labour.
Voodoo was born from the meeting of the traditional cults of the Yoruba gods and the Fon and Ewe divinities, during the creation and subsequent expansion of the kingdom of Abomey in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sometimes integrated into occult practices with their origins in a variety of communities, this cosmic religion based on African animist cults is still widespread in Benin and Togo, as evidenced by the famous fetish market in Lomé. The origin of the word “Voodoo” remains unclear. It may be derived from the word “vodun,” meaning “spirit” in Fon, one of the dialects spoken in Benin.
The Voodoo religion has approximately 50 million adherents globally. Many Voodoo-based communities exist around the world, mostly in the Americas and the West Indies. In Europe there are more discreet but nevertheless active communities, such as Hounfor bonzanfè, Lakou sans Lune, or Hounfor Konblanmen. In the early 21st century, the practice of the Voodoo religion extends also to Canada, where many communities have emerged and are working to promote this belief system.
The de Souza are probably the only family to have their own form of Voodoo – Dagun – directly associated with Chacha I. According to religious leader Dag Dagunnon, Dagun is primarily dedicated to the protection of children.
Today, Ouidah is the vital centre of the Voodoo religion in Benin and quite probably around the world. In 1992, the city hosted the first world festival dedicated to Voodoo art and culture. In addition, January 10, Ouidah’s annual Voodoo feast day, has been declared a national holiday.