17 January 2013

Benin: High Schooler By Day, Voodoo Priest By Night

Porto-Novo — Voodoo remains an integral part of African culture. Although the traditional religion has its critics, it is still robustly practised among the Beninese - some of whom are as young as they are fervent in their beliefs.

As soon as he gets home from school, 18-year-old Adrien Adandé slips out of his high school uniform and into his voodoo priest attire. A large crowd is already queuing outside for mystical consultations. Adandé took the practice over from his father, who initiated him before his death.

"As a child, I was my father's only son who was interested in what he was doing in the convent," the teenager recalls. "Along the way, he taught me things and showed me the secrets."

Through perseverance, the young apprentice so mastered the rituals that he now presides over the most important voodoo ceremonies. But Adandé is certainly an exception. There are very few school-going teenagers still interested in traditional religions.

Among other things, this has earned him ridicule from classmates. "My friends tease me and call me a fetishist," he explains. "Others keep away from me, fearing I might harm them with my amulets. But I stand by what I do. I can combine my studies and my vocation perfectly."

All kinds of help

While some Beninese youth shy away from the cult, others do not hesitate to visit voodoo temples seeking a quick fix to their daily life problems. Many young people turn to a voodoo priest for a solution to their unemployment, help with getting a job promotion or advice on social issues.

"What we can't find at church, we look for in traditional convents, and it works!" says 23-year-old Joël Akingbé.

But not all implorations are worthy, finds voodoo priest Hounnon Dranvodoun. "With the development of internet scams, many young people ask me to perform rituals to help them succeed in their scams and not get caught," he says.

To this, Gustave Bonou, another Beninese youth, replies: "Instead of using voodoo for dirty shams, these young people would be better off learning the cult's noble principles which are against these evil practices."

Devil's handiwork or source of identity?

Young Beninese citizens, who mostly practise 'imported' organized religions, tend to reject traditional belief systems, which they consider backward - if not altogether diabolic.

According to Ahmed Kassim, 19: "Voodoo is the devil's handiwork. Whoever wants to go to paradise must stay away from these satanic practices."

But 23-year-old philosophy student Barnabé Hounza sees voodoo as a means through which his peers can hold onto their culture. "With globalization, the expansion of the so-called revealed religions and evangelical churches, in particular, young people have turned away from convents," he says. "In doing so, youth are also turning away from their native beliefs."

Henri Tchokki, 19, agrees, advising youth to "stop belittling voodoo". "Let's internalize its teachings, which are the foundation of our spirituality and identity as Africans, as Beninese," he says.

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