West African Vodun

Vodun is also known as , Voduo, Vodoun, Voodoo, and by several other variants. It is a syncretic religion that combines Roman Catholicism and native African religion, particularly from the religion of the Dahomey region of West Africa (the modern day nation of Benin).

Vodun is primarily practiced in Haiti, New Orleans, and other locations within the Caribbean.

Vodun began when African slaves brought their native traditions with them as they were forcefully transported to the new world. However, they were generally forbidden from practicing their religion. To get around these restrictions, the slaves started to equate their gods with Catholic saints. They also performed their rituals using the items and imagery of the Catholic Church.

Vodun is a monotheistic religion. Followers of Vodou — known as Vodouisants — believe in a single, supreme godhead that can be equated with the Catholic God. This deity is known as Bondye, “the good god”.

Vodouisants also accept the existence of lesser beings, which they call loaor lwa. These are more intimately involved in day-to-day life than Bondye, who is a remote figure. The lwa are divided into three families: Rada, Petro, and Ghede.

Task 1: Write down five facts about vodun. Use this link to help you.

There are no standardised practices within Vodun. Two temples within the same city might teach different mythologies and appeal to the lwa in different ways.

As such, the information provided in overviews of Vodou (such as this one) cannot always reflect the beliefs of all believers. For example, sometimes lwa are associated with different families, Catholic saints, or veves. Some common variations are included here.

  • Animal Sacrifice A variety of animals might be killed during a Vodun ritual, depending upon the lwa being addressed. It provides spiritual sustenance for the lwa, while the flesh of the animal is then cooked and eaten by participants.
  • Veves Rituals commonly involve the drawing of certain symbols known as veves with cornmeal or another powder. Each lwa has its own symbol and some have multiple symbols associated with them.
  • Voodoo Dolls The common perception of Vodouisants poking pins into Voodoo dolls does not reflect traditional Vodun. However, Vodouisants do dedicate dolls to particular lwa and use them to attract a lwa’s influence.

Task 2: Write down the three common practices, summarised into your own words.

Task 3: Why do you think that in vodoun, they choose to not have a leader or any form of hierarchy?

Traditional Day or Fête du Vodoun (literally Vodoun Festival, also known as Traditional Religions Day) is a public holiday in Benin that celebrates the nation’s history surrounding the West African religion of Vodoun. The celebration is held annually on January 10 throughout the country but most notably in the city of Ouidah. Beginning with the slaughter of a goat in honour of the spirits, the festival is filled with singing, dancing and the drinking of liquor, especially gin.

Task 4: Until in 1990s, it was made illegal for the people of Benin to practice vodoun. The Fete de Vodoun was created when this law was abolished. Do you think it is important for people to be able to follow any religion they choose? Explain your answer.

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