Who’s Got a Voodoo Boo-Boo, You Do?!

So a few days ago I get a call from a volunteer nearby, who explains that she needs my help with a voodoo curse. One night a little while ago she had asked her neighbor to keep down the noise. This neighbor was impressed with neither her temerity nor her gumption and thus put a curse on her. In local parlance “curse” is “gree-gree” and, though it sounds silly, is taken pretty seriously. So, her boss insisted that she deal with the curse in the local fashion, by visiting a healer (one might call him a “shaman” if one were so inclined). This volunteer lives in a city, so we need to go en brousse a ways to find someone to perform the ceremony. She and I pile in her boss’s car and head down a dirt path for twenty minutes until we arrive at a little house in the middle of nowhere with lots of kids and goats running around.

The room is, in brief, exactly what is in your head when you imagine “voodoo.” In the corner is a statue that has had dark red palm oil (please please let it be red palm oil) poured all over it. Little relics abound, as do small gourds containing different powders and concoctions. I can see why she has asked me along. Someone explains that this process usually involves the sacrificing of a chicken, though (perhaps out of deference to Western sensibilities, perhaps out of having forgotten to buy a chicken) they will skip that step in this case.

The ceremony begins with scarification. A woman (the healer’s wife? Sister?) makes a small cut on the volunteer’s chest, sides, and back with a fresh razor blade. She then rubs black ash in the cuts, turning them into little tattoos that will protect her from curses. The healer then pours out a gourd of ground black pepper (how do I know that it’s black pepper, you ask? Well, dear reader, keep reading) and makes the symbols of “fa” in it. Fa is a string of cowrie shells, the position of which when thrown on the ground, can tell the nature of curses and other questions pertaining to voodoo. The healer makes a configuration with his fingers, erases it, then makes another. He does this until he has made all possible fa configurations, then collects the pepper back into the gourd, pouring a little bit into everyone’s outstretched hands (including yours truly). We then lick up the pepper in our hands, which is supposed to give us happiness and, of course, protect us from bad spirits. The healer also gives her a bottle of perfume containing special plants, which he insists that we all spray over our left hands (and persists for many, many headachy hours). She gets a little patty (for that is the only shape word that comes to mind) of smelly brown soap with a couple of cowrie shells imbedded in it. She is supposed to wash with this once a week, which will give happiness and, of course, protect her from bad spirits. She gets a little leather pouch that, if sprayed with the special perfume, will give happiness and, of course, protect from bad spirits. We interrupt the voodoo ceremony that is going on in the next room so the healer can give us a little tour (translated by the volunteer’s boss), and then we’re out of there, clear of all curses.

This is the kind of thing that’s not going to happen to me once I move back to the US.

For your visual enjoyment:

A Successful Voodoo Ceremony

Spirit Tools

The next day, we went to visit a famous site in her town: a sacred pile of trash. As far as I know, it is the only sacred pile of trash in existence, though if any of you know of any other blessed refuse receptacles I’d be very interested to hear about them. There are two stories about the pile. The first is that there was a good sorceress who informed the community that the only way that her protection would continue after she was dead was if she was buried under a lot of trash. The other story is that there was an evil sorceress who is buried under a lot of trash to keep her evil power at bay. You may decide for yourself, dear reader.

A Sacred Trash Pile

In mind-boggling  news: this will probably be my last dispatch from Benin, as we are rapidly careening toward my Close-of-Service. It has been a long, strange trip with highs (scores of little children racing down the road to hug me) and lows (food poisoning in Parakou), palm trees and pâte, really hot days and really hot days, one particularly bad sunburn, a few mosquito nets installed, and a few lives (including mine) changed.

Not making any promises, but I may become inspired to write a post once I get back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. After many, many pizzas. And root beer! Why can’t you find root beer anywhere else but the States? I mean, you’d think. That stuff is delicious! If you can find a Sprite in the tiniest of African villages you should be able to get a Barq’s in Cotonou, right? It’s got an international airport, after all!

Donc, on se dit à tout moment.  Eyi zahnday.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Amy Elizabeth on August 22, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Sounds like you’ve had an amazing learning experience. Eloquent writing. Appréciez le moment!


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