Celebrating Vodun - PhMuseum

Celebrating Vodun

Lucia Perrotta

2015 - 2016

Benin

Vodun religion is a complex system of beliefs which is based, rather than on religious texts, on a strong oral tradition handed down over the years from generation to generation.

This is the first reason of many differences, mainly based on the African region where it started: Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria. Today it is practiced by roughly 60 million people.

The word Vodun indicates the complex of religious practices and doctrines as well as any object produced by man (also known as “fetishes”) or by nature – e.g. a river, a tree, an animal – which is believed to be inhabited by supernatural and invisible entities.

Vodun is everything that exists, everything that constitutes both the visible and the invisible world: everything that exists is part and manifestation of an ancestral and eternal entity. The sacrifice of animals, the gift of their blood to divinities are a necessary means to enter a dialogue with the supernatural entities and with our ancestors’ world.

Vodun rituals are manifest and rich in dances, music, objects and animals, but their foundation is veiled by a secret that only adepts are allowed to know. The concept of secret in Vodun is full of strength and meaning: it’s the basis of religious knowledge itself and it is accessible only for those who consecrate many years of initiation to learning and practice.

Benin is the only African country where Vodun is recognized as an official religion;here the National Vodun Festival is celebrated on January 10th, a holidayattracting thousands of visitors every year.

Vodun is considered one of the oldest religions in the world, taking into account its origins linked to animism and polytheism.

In Benin it is from the Reign of Dahomey (1600-1900) that the first researches try to give the religion an organic vision. Furthermore, the syncretism with the Catholic-Christian religion was formalized for the first time in Benin in the early 2000’s by Dah Alligbonon Akpochihala, Vodun scholar and priest, who has since then fought to protect Vodun tradition against the progress and the generational transitions.

If, on the one hand, its tradition seems unchangeable and maybe, for this very reason, doomed to vanish, on the other hand, through the above mentioned religious syncretism with Catholicism and other universal religions, everything appears ever-changing, shifting, with blurred boundaries and aimed at a transformation.

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  • A moment in the ceremony of the blessing of a road connecting Ouidah to the sea.
    Blessing a crossroad means blessing your own path.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Within a Vodun ceremony, music and chants play a central role, spelling the rhythm for the main phases of the ritual.
    Dethou Village, Abomey, Benin, 2015

  • “Revenant” (Return) ceremony, commemorating the spirits of the died. Only the initiates are admitted, but they must avoid being touched by the Egouns (Revenant) that would cause them to incur in death or misfortune in their turn.
    Surroundings of Abomey, Benin, 2015

  • Ceremony for the construction of a Vodun, a “god-object” that the initiate will always bring with him. Bokono (priest) Dah Sodadjo sews the Cauri shells (small white shells, once used as coins) on the “Vodun” coating. The object is made of organic and vegetable material: its composition follows a millenary tradition in craft which is passed on from generation to generation.
    Cové, Benin, 2016

  • The sacrifice of an ox during a blessing ceremony. Part of the blood and meat of the sacrificed animal is offered to the spirits.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Kokou-Gamada ritual, the ceremony of good and evil. The initiates cover themselves with talcum powder, which can keep away the evil spirits.
    Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • The cult of the dead and of the ancestors plays a central role in Vodun. The world of spirits is in constant contact with the earthly world.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • A moment in an Abiku ceremony. This particular ritual usually goes on for three days and it is promoted by a family when the death of one new-born or very young child is followed by the birth of a second child who survives.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • From December 1st to 25th many holidays are dedicated to games and are characterized by the presence of masked figures entertaining children and kids with playful dances and runs.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • In many rituals women play a support and incitement role to help the proper performance of the ceremony. In the Vodun tradition alcohol is used both during ceremonies and in convivial moments, and it is offered as a sign of hospitality.
    Oussa, Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Vodun priest Dah Salanon Souvinainguinnon consults the Fa, the divinatory science on which Vodun is based.
    Dethou, Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • The house of the Bokono (priest) Guedegbe Baba in Abomey. The Bokono position, as many others in Vodun tradition, is passed on from father to son and usually the pictures of succeeded Bokonos are hanged on the walls of the house.
    Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • Initiation ceremony for Dah Santos Jules’ youngest son, in Aimakou village.
    Aimakou, Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Vodun village of Degue, on Ouidah coastline. Maximum temperatures in Benin reach about 30°-35° C in the south with a warm and damp climate.
    Degue, Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Two women wait for the parade celebrating the coronation of King Dah Migan Hagla, from the Vodun village of Tindji Assanlin. According to Beninese constitution the king has no formal role but, in fact, he plays a very important role for the villages and constitutes an essential reference for the whole population, which venerates him and obey his orders.
    Tindi Assanlin, Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • The Gbedagba fetish market in Abomey is one of the largest in West Africa. Here you can find poultry, reptile and mammal carcases, live animals, herbs and roots: all the ingredients that a Vodun ceremony officiant might request. The fetish merchant profession is passed on from father to son. Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • Before officiating a ceremony, Vodun priest Dah Salanon Souvinainguinnon looks for the right plants in the surroundings of his home village.
    Dethou, Abomey, Benin,2016

  • A moment in a Vodun mass celebration, a result of religious syncretism with Catholicism. Many passages are taken from the Catholic mass, like the communion with kola seeds. On Sunday two different masses are held: in the morning, for women and children, and in the evening, for men. Abomey, Benin, 2016

  • The great spiritual leaders’ parade during National Vodun Festival The festival is held each year on January 10th and it is a national holiday.
    Ouidah, Benin, 2016

  • Sodji hill is one of 41 hills in Dassa, a town in central Benin. Its stones keep the traces of cavities where the soldiers of Dahomey reign used to prepare the gunpowder used to capture men and women who sought refuge here to avoid being captured and sold as slaves. The slaves spread Vodun amongst the world.
    Dassa, Benin, 2016


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