Wednesday, January 11, 2006

High priestess sacrifices animals in Benin for National Voodoo Day

Virgile Ahissou:

Thousands gathered on a beach Tuesday to celebrate Benin's once-banned voodoo, slaughtering animals and welcoming revelers from Brazil and the United States, including descendants of slaves who took the religion to the Americas centuries ago.

At a ceremony Tuesday, voodoo high priestess Nagbo Hounon Gbeffa sacrificed a goat, a rooster and a chicken as divine offerings.

"I'm very moved," said Faith McDouglas, a 37-year-old nurse from Omaha, Neb., and a descendant of slaves.

Voodoo originated in West Africa. It holds that all life is driven by spiritual forces of natural phenomena like water, fire, earth and air that should be honored through rituals that include animal sacrifices. Followers believe they can communicate with divinities and spirits by putting themselves into a trance.

Countless Africans were shipped into slavery, taking voodoo with them, and cults still exist in the Caribbean, Latin America and the southern United States.

The religion was repressed in Benin, then banned during incumbent President Mathieu Kerekou's first 18-year stint in power, which ended in 1991. Kerekou's Marxist regime believed the rites went against the socialist work ethic.

But the religion, practiced by an estimated 60 percent of Benin's 7 million people, was impossible to suppress, and the government inaugurated National Voodoo Day in 1996, giving the religion an official place here alongside Christianity and Islam.

Voodoo Day celebrated in Benin


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