Voodoo: Is It an African Religion?

Religion In Africa: Voodoo?

Religion In Africa:
Voodoo?

Today I came across a tweet on Twitter stating, “and actually voodoo is based upon catholic ideologies..voodoo is not an African religion. its a slave religion.” I have heard other people contend that voodoo originated in the Caribbean. Now, which is it? Is it African? Or, is voodoo even a religion?

When we discuss such a topic we must state weather we are talking about origins or current practices, weather we are talking about practices in New Orleans, Ouidah (Benin), or Brazil.

The word “voodoo” is used as a designation for many things. Even our modern, standard, go-to place for definitions, Wikipedia, knows that the term voodoo has many meanings. There is a jet fighter called F-101 voodoo, then there is voodoo music, and also a voodoo ride at a theme park in Pennsylvania. But, we are not referring to any of those.

Where does the term voodoo originate? It is an Anglicized form (English rendering of a foreign word) of the word “vodoun” which is common to the Gbe languages of Benin and Togo. It means “god”. There are plenty, I mean hundreds, of vodoun in West Africa: Mami (referred to in the west as Mimi Wata), Legba, Hebiezo, Edan and many more. The religion (beliefs and practices) around each of these gods is unique.

I lived in Benin for 9 years and have seen shrines to the gods (vodoun) and watched coven members (vodushi) to these gods work themselves into trances to communicate with these gods. Each god and each coven have their own beliefs and practices.

The city of Ouidah in Benin is said, by some, to be the seat of voodoo, yet even in this city there are shrines to many of these gods. It is from the history of this city that some may make the connection between voodoo and slavery. Ouidah is the place where voodoo “worshipers” from around the world come on Benin’s holiday traditional religion. It is one of the main cities for spiritual powers of the Fon people. Ouidah is also the ancient port city from which slaves last walked on their homeland.

Voodoo, at least in the origin of the term, is not a religion. However, in the Caribbean, Brazil and New Orleans, where the slaves landed, their are religions that have some clear similarities to the beliefs and practices of various West African covens. Just as the vodoun in West Africa, the “voodoo” in different regions of the world a distinct, in specifics, to that place.

Yet, I would say that none of the above are a religions. Santeria is a religion in Brazil that has some vestiges of the West African “vodoun”, but the religion is much more comprehensive than what most people think of when they hear the world voodoo. Mami Wata is consulted and scarified to in some of the voodoo practices in New Orleans, but again it a part of a larger belief system with its accompanying practices.

The traditional religions of West Africa are certainly not “voodoo.” Their origin is not from slaves, nor Catholicism.

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