A Spiritual Celebration Transcends the Pandemic
Benin’s annual Voodoo Festival! A cultural event celebrating the traditional religion that attracts followers and even tourists the world over. However, Sunday’s festivities paled in comparison to the usual grandeur.
Christophe Kanankin Gbedohoui, a Beninese voodoo priest, shared the differences felt this year.
"We used to gather and celebrate with pomp and circumstance on January 10th. But with the Covid-19, we stayed in our convent and reduced the number to avoid its spread. We pray that it will stay away from us forever."
Spiritual Tradition & Beninese Culture
A religion born in this West African country and built around the forces of nature and the link with ancestors — whose representations can be objects or natural elements, Voodoo or Vodun as it is locally refereed, has around tens of millions of practitioners.
January 10th was declared an annual public holiday by President Mathieu Kerekou in 1998 to celebrate this expression of spirituality in the country.
Deities of Voodoo or Vodoun receive tributes and offerings from believers.
Grand in Spirit but Smaller in Practice
Large processions are usually held in different towns but coronavirus restrictions put in place by authorities see celebrations this year significantly scaled-down on in Cotonou and on Grand Popo beach.
Bertin Zinsou Kpedjigan, a Thron adept, compares this global health crisis-hit year to the usual nature of events.
"Before we had guests from outside the country, from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina (Burkina Faso), etc... but this year we didn't see anything, we stayed with our family but we did our best and we thank god that he saved us from this illness."
In Cotonou, the economic capital, a dignitary of the deity Mami, the goddess of the sea, Hounnon Zèkpon, did not carry out the usual procession on the beach of Fidjorossè.
But, dressed all in white, with a loincloth mask of the same colour, the dignitary is nevertheless busy in the courtyard of his house which serves as a convent with about ten followers for sacrifices.
On the beach of Grand Popo, a coastal village in south-western Benin, about fifty followers, all masked and kept at a safe distance, have nevertheless made the trip for libations and sacrifices.
Many people in other locations also still came out to pay tribute and give offerings to the Voodoo deities —some wearing masks and most respecting the coronavirus-prevention guidelines.
Coronavirus Prediction Meets Prevention?
Interestingly enough, in November 2019, the Tô Fâ, a voodoo oracle, "predicted a serious illness for 2020."
Benin never officially went into lockdown but has been little affected by the pandemic with 3,300 confirmed cases and only 44 deaths - figures that some believe are understated.