Voodoo: a parallel reflection

Africa is roots. Approaching the spiritual side of the people is very difficult, because it is like asking to look inside, to something intimate, reserved for those who live and feel that belief every day.

Animism is just a word, trying to give a sort of container, for a great number of spiritual realities, rituals, traditions and above all, ways of living the everiday life. This happens in the ordinary gestures and habits that made the reality of daily life, covered by an immaterial veil, which seems to permeate everything.

Africa is different. In Togo, where this story is set, it is not, as one might think at first look, the extreme poverty and the poor of the welfare state, which causes the persistence of olds beliefs, that are still strongly rooted. This despite the strong influence of European colonialism, first German and then French, which certainly led Christianity to spread in the country; Islam too, especially in the north, continues to growth; well, the population still has the largest number of followers in traditional beliefs, with 51% of people finding spiritual responses in ancient African religions.

My approach to such a complex reality was not the kind of a scholar studying a different culture, but rather, of a genuinely curious person.

In the two trips in Togo, that led me to meet the Vodu, term that literally stands for “the sign of the deep”, but widely known as Voodoo, I was amazed to find the magic, not hidden behind secret rituals, unseen from the common people, as we can imagine thinking of Voodoo, where, for us Westerners, the mind immediately goes to black magic, but, to well observe, to let yourself to be carried away and involved by everyday life, this magic is instead hidden in all evidence, behind every simple gesture, conscious or not, of the daily life. I began to call it African magical realism, thinking about those strange and shifting atmospheres founded in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books, where the realism of everyday life suddenly mixes with the mystical, the supernatural.

Shifting moments, fascinating enchanted conjunctions, kept repeating in that days, involving me more and more and at the same time increasing my deep respect and costraint, for this ancestral spiritual world.

A day, going up the forest to reach a waterfall sacred to Ayda-Weddo, loa of fertility and fresh waters, a ten-year-old boy joined us without saying anything and when we reached the pool of water at the base of the waterfall, he put himself at the center of it and mysteriously assumed an ascetic position; just the time to take a couple of shots and he left, back down the forest, without saying a word. It was one of the most emotional moments of my African journeys.

Again, when wandering alone through the streets of the small Atakpamé, in a period of festivity in honor of the most popular food in the country, the Igname, a sort of tuber with a flavor similar to the potato, with strong symbolic contents, linked to the fact that the maturation period of the tuber under the earth is nine months, as in human gestation, so, looking out into an alley I saw this spirit-mask engaged in a solitary dance to the rhythm of distant resounding drums, with no audience but me; I walked away and he continued his dance, as my presence was barely been noticed.

I lived situations of this kind many times and each time I experienced this feeling of "displacement".

This is the way Africa slowly penetrates through skin. Places, people create a unique mixture, with the aspect of roots that cling to your conscience, carry it and in the end, alters it forever.

Voodoo chant

Original record taken in a sacred forest. The distant chant was from a ceremony where the acces was forbidden.

Copyright © 2019 Andrea Calandra.

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