West African Vodun

West African Vodun

Vodun or Vudun (pronounced|vodṹ — that is, with a nasal "u" on a high tone) (so spelled in the Fon language of Benin and Nigeria and the Ewe language of Togo and Ghana; also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, "etc.") is a traditional monotheistic organized religion of coastal West Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana. It is distinct from the non-organized traditional animistic religions in the interiors of these same countries, as well as from various religions with often similar names of the African Diaspora in the New World, such as Haitian Vodou, the similar "Vudu" of the Dominican Republic, Candomblé in Brazil (which uses the term "Vodum"), Louisiana Voodoo, and Santería in Cuba, which are syncretized with Christianity and the traditional religions of the Kongo people of Congo and Angola.

The word "vodún" is the Gbe (Fon-Ewe) word for "spirit". When the word is capitalized, "Vodun," it denotes the religion. When it is not, "vodun," it denotes the spirits that are central to the religion. "Voodoo" is the most common spelling in American popular culture.

Vodun is practiced by the Ewe, Kabye, Mina, Fon, and (under a different name) the Yoruba peoples of southeastern Ghana, southern and central Togo, southern and central Benin, and southwestern Nigeria.

Vodun cosmology

Vodun cosmology centers around the "vodun," spirits and other elements of divine essence which govern the Earth. Vodun is essentially monotheistic: There is a single divine Creator, called variously "Mawu" or "Nana Buluku," which embodies a dual cosmogenic principle, and of which "Mawu," the moon, and "Lisa," the sun, are female and male aspects, respectively. ("Mawu" and "Lisa" are often portrayed as the twin children of the Creator.) There are a hierarchy of lesser creations, the "vodun," which range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, the more impressive of which may be considered sacred. God does not trifle with the mundane, so the "vodun" are the center of religious life. (It is often believed that it is these aspects of the religion, similar in many ways to the Trinity and the intercession of saints and angels, which made Vodun so compatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, in the New World, and produced such strongly syncretistic religions as Haitian Vodou.)

The pantheon of the "vodun" is quite large and complex. In one tradition, there are seven daughters and sons of Mawu, which are inter-ethnic and related to natural phenomena or historical or mythical individuals, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. There is a pantheistic quality to Vodun, since all of Divine Creation is considered divine, and therefore contains the power of the divine. This is a concept vital to medicine, such as herbal remedies, and explains the ubiquitous use of mundane objects in religious ritual.

West African Vodun, as with all indigenous African ReligionsFact|date=July 2008, has its primary emphasis on ancestors, with each family of spirits having its own priestesshood, who is often hereditary. In many African clans, deities might include Mami Wata, who are god/desses of the waters; Legba, who in some clans is virile and young in contrast to the form of an old man he takes in Haiti; Gu, ruling iron and smithcraft; Sakpata, who rules diseases; and many other spirits distinct in their own way to West Africa.


About 60% of the population of Benin, some 4½ million people, practice Vodun. (This does not count other traditional religions in Benin.) In addition, many of the 15% of the population that refer to themselves as "Christian" practice a syncretized religion, not dissimilar from Haitian Vodou or Brazilian Cadomblé; indeed, many of them are descended from freed Brazilian slaves who settled on the coast near Ouidah. These traditions also have some influence in Uruguay. In Togo, about half the population practices indigenous religions, of which Vodun is by far the largest, with some 2½ million followers; there may be another million Vodunists among the Ewe of Ghana: 13% of the population of 20 million are Ewe and 38% of Ghanaians practice traditional religion. According to census data, about 14 million people practice traditional religion in Nigeria, most of whom are Yoruba practicing Vodun, but no specific breakdown is available.

European colonialism, followed by some of the totalitarian regimes in West Africa, have tried to suppress Vodun as well as other traditional religions. However, because the vodun deities are born to each clan, tribe, and nation, and their clergy are central to maintaining the moral, social and political order and ancestral foundation of its village, it was near to impossible to eradicate the tradition. Today the religion is practiced by about 8 million people in Benin, Togo, and Ghana, and at least that many again in Nigeria, and recently there have been moves to restore the place of Vodun in national society, such as an annual International Vodun Conference held in the city of Ouidah in Benin that has been held since 1991.

ee also

*Dahomeyan religion
*Yoruba religion


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External links

* [http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/zinzindohoue.htm Traditional Religion in Africa:The Vodun Phenomenon in Benin]
* [http://rara.wesleyan.edu/ Vodou-related Rara festivals in Haiti and New York]
* [http://www.mamiwata.com/interview2.html West African Vodoun Resurrected in the Diaspora]

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