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The Sacred Dances.

The return to the home and resuming contact with family members takes place under the guise of amazement. The novices are convinced that their real relatives are still in the compound of the voodoo and it is only with difficulty that, day by day, they rediscover their natural ties with their original family. In other words, the vodussi, upon whom a new existence has been conferred, no longer remember their natural relatives and, if they begin to do so again, it is only on the strength of the orders of the person in charge of the voodoo.

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The initiates assist their parents and relatives with certain work in the fields. They also go to gather firewood for their family. However, the sacred language they speak, the special garment they wear and the cord of the voodoo around their neck are perpetual reminders of the estranged nature of their condition and the change that is taking place in them. Their younger siblings accompany them everywhere and they also end up knowing the language of the voodoo, becoming to a degree their interpreters with the ‘profane’.
The initiates must make themselves useful to the family because, in the compound they were told to be respectful and obedient to all. There is also an ulterior motive for this docility to the parents: it is they who will meet the greater expenses when the vodussi is ‘freed’ from the voodoo compound. If they have been lazy, the parents might refuse to help them and in this case the period of initiation ought to last much more than the regular three years. If the vodussi has failed to respect a prohibition, the parents take them to the one in charge of the voodoo so that they can make amends for the offence.

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A small ceremony then takes place that always requires that an offering of money or a bottle of some alcoholic drink be given. Usually, the vodussi behaves wisely and this is precisely what the family expects of them: they want to see in them the signs of a radical change since they are convinced this will bring the blessings of the voodoo on them.
At the end of the three years, the novice is called. Those in charge of their formation examine their novitiate period. The examination is strict, aimed at revealing eventual failings: the novice is asked to confess them to avoid future punishment by the voodoo.
After the examination, the last phase of initiation, leading to its conclusion, is officially begun. It is the moment for the tudede, the suppression of the prescriptions of the voodoo; this is undoubtedly the most important rite of initiation and must absolutely be carried out on the live novice or on the corpse, if they should die before completing the period of formation.

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It consists first of all in a rite of purification with water containing the herbs of the voodoo and the immolation, on the head and body of the novice, of a chick
(in the case of the Heviesso voodoo) or of a cock or a male goat for the Toxosu voodoo. In the case of Heviesso voodoo, this rite takes place by night, before cockcrow, at a crossroads at the entrance to the village. In Toxosu voodoo, the  sacrifice takes place in the morning, in a grove close to a water course. Immediately afterwards, the novices become initiated people and are clothed in the insignia of the voodoo: the garment, shells, bells and a band around the forehead bearing the signs of the voodoo.
Dressed in this manner, they must immediately present themselves in public to show that their time of ‘seclusion’ is over. At times like these, people always come together. There follows a small rite during which the newly initiated are given a hoe: from this moment on, they may freely go to the fields and use the hoe. In the afternoon, the first afodetome (‘put one’s foot in the circle’) dances takes place which will allow them to take part in profane dances.
The following day the public verification of the good behaviour of the new initiates during the time when they were in the sacred enclosure takes place. The test is simple: they have to sit on upturned jars while the minister pours libations and invokes the voodoo. If a jar were to break, it would mean that the former novice committed offences or broke prohibitions without having the courage to confess them. This omission would cause serious consequences for the one in question. The minister of the voodoo formulates a prayer according to the expectations of the candidate. ‘O Voodoo Heviesso, your child is seated on the jars. You know how they behaved towards you up to this day. Sustain them so that they may be seated in peace and rise in peace. When they go to the market, may they make a profit. When they go to the fields, may they have a good harvest. May they soon get married. May their wishes be granted…’.

vo 4 - 4The new initiate must wear the insignia of the voodoo for four months and all that time they must continue to speak the language of the voodoo. They first undergo a rite of purification, or rather, the restitution of the old language by means of the adavelolo, ‘shaving of the choleric tongue’. The tongue of the vodussi is repeatedly touched with a fish sauce. They are then invited to come close to a heap of rubbish and to repeat the greetings in Outachi, the ordinary language. For girls or married women, there is another ceremony, that of the azakplikpli, ‘reuniting the two mats’: the person concerned, while lying on a mat, is invited to link her left leg with the right leg of a young male child while the huno pours another libation. After this, the vodussi is free to marry or to return to the old conjugal home with full effect. At this point, the ‘matrimonial’ ties with the voodoo are ended and the voodoo will no longer be jealous because of the choices of the initiate.

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The sacred dances go on in the market square for seven days so that everyone can know the new initiates and to maintain an atmosphere of celebration. The people congratulate the new initiates: they have at last emerged from their period of trial and suffering and now enter as adults into the profane everyday world, protected from the voodoo. They will be agents of the voodoo. By their hand, the voodoo can work prodigies, when he so wishes. They will meet again periodically in the sacred enclosure when there are rites, sacrifices, prayers for rain and to choose new leaders for the ‘convent’, to take the place of those who have become incapable or have died. From this time on they must prove their maturity and religious seriousness and help maintain equilibrium and order. They will imitate the chameleon that knows how to adapt by changing its colour as required and that, with its slow movement, reminds us that we must act with care in a world where the equilibrium is fragile. The initiates now know that they are the first guarantors of this cosmic, religious and moral equilibrium and must direct the ‘dances’ of the profane in such a way that everything proceeds with order and harmony.

Voodoo today

Voodoo is closely tied to the earth. With the influence of new realities, the continual movement from place to place, the city and its dynamics, the ever growing presence of virtual communication, especially among the youth, the relationship with the sacred is endangered. Slowly but inexorably, the traditional religious patrimony is being abandoned by many as if it were an out-of-date encumbrance.

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Even in the villages, up until recently most faithful to the voodoo, the number of sacred enclosures has diminished and the novices are fewer. The new generation feels more attracted by new forms of religious belonging. The proliferation of magic techniques and divination, as well as the appearance of new messianic and syncretistic sects, show the traditional religions struggling to find new ways to survive, with all the dangers that accompany them.
Bruno Gilli

 

 

 

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