The Outachi, an ethnic group of the south coast of Togo, practice voodoo, a traditional religion that has, for generations, inspired the thinking and actions of this people. We here present some elements and significant times of Voodoo.
Voodoo means ‘the sign of the depths’. The term yevhé, meaning: ‘the astute power of the cave’, an expression that qualifies voodoo as something fleeting since it is not in view but obscured within the earth and of which only the effects are known, being apparent. Voodoo is seen in the cosmos as the force and power, both material and transcendent at the same time.
According to some mythical accounts, Mawu, the supreme being, sent voodoo into the world when, disgusted by the irresponsible behaviour of man, it decided to distance itself and remain in peace in some remote corner of the universe. Voodoo was sent for the purpose of preventing humankind from harming itself.
Voodoo is seen as somewhat like an anthill: the mound of very hard earth that is visible externally while not at all revealing the coordinated and organised movement of the millions of ants within it. What voodoo itself really is remains a mystery however.
Voodoo is a reality that does not allow itself to be known or identified because it does not wish to run the risk of being subjected to man or enslaved by him. Voodoo exists, therefore, as the principle of equilibrium and protection against maleficent powers.
The voodoo exists in the impressive phenomenon of nature called lightning and its home and starting point are there. It is regarded with respect in the certainty that it intervenes against certain malignant forces at work in the world. It is that which is charged with maintaining the equilibrium of the world by destroying evil witch doctors.
Voodoo kills them with its bolts: bolts which never strike at random because pure chance does not exist in the world view of the Outachi.
Chance does not exist and it is voodoo which is invoked in its stead against witchcraft, that inexplicable force which seems to exist for the purpose of harming people.
Voodoo occupies an important place in the religious and social life of the Outachi: we may say that, together with afa, the messenger of divination, it pervades and inspires all the spheres of thought and action of the Outachi. It is beyond doubt that the voodoo religion has helped to form and perfect their culture and tradition.
Seeing the countless signs (shrines, altars, ornaments, images, ceremonies etc) through which voodoo beliefs are expressed, we make ask how many voodoos there are.
Rather than the classical distinction between the voodoo of the sky, the earth, the sea and the rivers, the Ouatchi refer to that which divides voodoo into two categories: that of the authentic and true voodoo of the ancestors (Togbi voodoo); and that of the ‘invented’ voodoo, created to respond to new forms of witchcraft and mistaken faith in voodoo which are called ‘voodoo of the amulets’ or simply ‘magic voodoo’ (Bo voodoo).
While the first are but a few, the latter increase day by day. Among the best known and more important cosmic and ancestral we find: Heviesso, the Voodoo of lightning, made up of a family of seven lightning bolts: Agbui, the female voodoo closely joined to Heviesso, who continuously supplicates her ‘husband’ to be careful and avoid excessive violence; he is made fun of in all the great ceremonies, repeating the rites in the form of a caricature. Sakpate is the voodoo of smallpox and lord of the earth, a choleric character and a despot. Da, the serpent, is the Voodoo of communication and manifestation which is present in everything and is everywhere, making visible the actions of other voodoos: he is very capable of adaptation and making himself present. Toxosu is the voodoo of the mongoloids and of all somatic and psychic manifestations: his followers dress in red since they are of royal blood, having been received into the court of the kings of Abomey.
Worthy of separate mention are the so-called voodoo of births that ‘descend’ into the world and manifest themselves as voodoo and require an altar to be built with the subsequent accompanying cult. Among the more important of these we note the twins Venavi and the Ago, or children born by breech delivery. Lastly there is Age, the spirit of the forest that oversees inventions and discoveries in the scientific and ‘pharmaceutical’ fields.
When anyone finds an instrument or symbol of voodoo (e.g. objects in metal or stone that resemble the shape of a serpent) on the ground or in a watercourse, he goes to consult the soothsayer to see if he has found a voodoo. If this is the case, he must diligently seek a sufficiently large space where he can build a dwelling for the voodoo and for anyone who comes to spend a period of initiation there.
As soon as he finds it, he builds a mud wall around it. Such constructions require considerable expenditure. ‘But, if you build a house for the voodoo – those responsible for the voodoo explain – the voodoo will build your house for you’.
The person who finds the voodoo symbols must undergo schooling by one expert in voodoo to learn how to ‘practice voodoo’. The expert teaches him how to distinguish ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ herbs (all herbs, roots and plants are so divided according to their therapeutic qualities), for the use of those who come to his compound to obtain healing from the voodoo. Once his training is completed and the building complete, the ceremony for the erection of the voodoo is begun. (B.G.)