TOGO: Vodou

Vodou (alongside other indigenous religions) is the most popular religion in Togo, even more so than Christianity, but there’s a lot of stereotype-busting that needs to happen in the West about Vodou. The religion has such a negative reputation in North America, and those stereotypes are definitely spurred from a racial/religious “othering”. Fundamentally, it’s an animist religion, with connections to the land and spirits, as well as being important for fostering community – people come from all over West Africa for festivals in Togo and Benin, and Lomé is home to the world’s largest Vodou market.

I remember taking a Caribbean history course back in university in which we studied Haitian Vodou – interestingly, while it is a direct descendant of West African Vodou, the Haitian version is much more syncretic with Christianity. In Togo, it’s the other way around; Togolese Christianity seems much more influenced by Vodou (though there’s definitely some tension between the two).

The video at the very top is are clips from a festival involving Zangbetos, who protect law and order, and the video below is a long-play of a festival for Sakpete, the god of the ground, in Anfoin in southern Togo.

As for the spelling of Vodou – there’s no one set spelling. Vaudou is sometimes used, such as with the Togolese musician Vaudou Game. Voudun is common as well, and Vodou is used both for West African and Haitian versions.

“Voodoo” seems to be the spelling used most often in Western sources that stereotype or malign it as “black magic” or something unknowably exotic or Satanic, and while the spelling itself isn’t outright offensive, it is generally falling out of favour.

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