Young girls vodoun (vudu/voodoo)initiates performing traditional agbaza dance during vodoun ceremony in Abomey, Benin. n the cultural area of South Benin, which is the area I am addressing in my discourse, the deep influence of the religious phenomenon on the social, economic and political structures is undeniable.
The present time is solidly rooted in the time of the venerated ancestors; events, almost in their minute detail, are explained, understood and lived in a certain continuity with the will of the Vodun.
The pharmacopoeia constitutes a major force of the convents. Each family, each son or each large socio-geographic entity (the To) has its special Vodun which imposes itself as the primary area for the quest for existential meaning. Wisdom has as its base the fear of Vodun. Economic life receives the aid expected from the Vodun. "The art of arts, in other words politics, is marked by the Vodun reality". From these various data collected at source, one might infer that theVodun religion imbues the social fabric to the point that worship may supplant culture.
Such a deduction is much more theoretical than real. Vodun does not absorb all that is cultural. There is a strong tendency for religion to replace culture. What does recur is that the cult appropriates cultural elements. The religious cult can claim for itself as meaningful signs (acts, gestures, words…) those by which man shows his relationship of communion with the transcendent. In Vodun, this is a specific act of devotion and religiosity. The essential acts of worship in the Vodun religion are sacrifices (of propitiation or thanksgiving), offerings and prayers. Communion meals and annual purification rites complete the vast range of forms of ritual worship. The cult’s impact on cultural life goes through the moral prohibitions and prescriptions which emanate specifically from Vodun (Vodun-sù). This necessary distinction between the cult and the culture is the unavoidable condition for sincere dialogue between this culture and Christianity, so as to start a process of inculturation. But this precise definition in no way seeks to insinuate that the religion as a whole is a negative, coarse idolatry.
Haitian Voodoo practitioners
If the truth is to be told, it must be recognised that the shortcomings, failures and deviations ofVodun (charms, magic, sorcery, fetishism…) exploit the senses, the useful, in a quest for power. There is an unwarranted substitution of symbols, signs for the pure material nature of the sign. This leads to superstitious and magical attitudes, widespread infusion of wickedness and terror inVodun practices. Hence the perplexity and scepticism when faced with a Vodun that promotes a certain morality. In the Hênnu, the Ako (lineage) and the To, Vodun constitutes an element of social cohesion. The regular ceremonies of each social entity’s particular Vodun provide great moments of brotherhood in action. The followers of the same Vodun are bound by this Vodun’s specific prohibitions and legal prescriptions. The Vodun rules establish a life of solidarity among these individuals: quarrels between followers of the same Vodun are generally settled at the convent or at the Vodunun’s house. In addition, Vodun tolerates no transgression of its prohibitions. This maintains among sincere Vodun adepts a permanent culture of fidelity. The total commitment of ex-Vodun adepts who have converted to Christianity is a proof of this. Finally, it should be noted that if Vodun does not oppose the rules of life known as Gbêsu, it accepts them implicitly. These Gbêsu hold the destruction of life and the betrayal of friends in abomination. The features to be focused on therefore, are the values of fraternity, solidarity, communion and religious fidelity, without forgetting the social prohibitions to which Vodun implicitly give credit.
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah