Student by day,Voodoo priest by night

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Voodoo remains an integral part of African culture. Although the traditional religion has its critics, it also has fervent followers in Benin – some of whom are as young as they are devoted.

By Razzack Saïzonou, Porto-Novo

As soon as he gets home from school, 18-year-old Adrien Adandé slips out of his high school uniform and into his voodoo priest robes. A large crowd is already queuing outside for consultations. Adandé took over the practice from his father, who initiated him into the Voodoo rites before his death.

"As a child, I was my father’s only son who was interested in what he was doing at the convent,” the teenager recalls. “Along the way, he taught me things and showed me the secrets."

Figure of fun
With perseverance, the young apprentice eventually mastered even the most complicated rituals and can now preside over the most important voodoo ceremonies. But Adandé is an exception – only a minority of teenagers are still interested in the traditional religions.

He has been ridiculed by classmates for his beliefs. “My friends tease me and call me a fetishist,” he explains. “Others keep away from me, fearing I might harm them with my amulets. But I stand by what I do. I can combine my studies and my vocation perfectly.”

All kinds of help

While many Beninese young people shy away from the cult, others visit the traditional voodoo convents seeking a quick fix to their daily problems. Many young people turn to a voodoo priest for help finding a job or winning a promotion or advice on social issues. “What we can’t find at church, we look for at the convents, and it works!” says 23-year-old Joël Akingbé.

But not all requests are honourable according to Voodoo priest Hounnon Dranvodoun. “With the development of internet scams, many young people ask me to perform rituals to help them succeed in their scams and not get caught,” he says. Gustave Bonou, another young Beninese student agrees: “Instead of using voodoo for dirty scams, these young people would be better off learning the cult’s noble principles which are against these evil practices.”

Devil’s work or cultural identity?

Young Beninese citizens, who mostly practise ‘imported’ organised religions, tend to reject traditional belief systems, which they consider backward – if not outrioght evil. According to 19-year old Ahmed Kassim: “Voodoo is the devil’s handiwork. Whoever wants to go to paradise must stay away from these satanic practices.”

But 23-year-old philosophy student Barnabé Hounza sees voodoo as a means through which his peers can hold onto their culture. “With globalisation, the expansion of the so-called revealed religions and evangelical churches, in particular, young people have turned away from convents,” he says. “In doing so, they are also turning away from their native beliefs.”

Henri Tchokki, 19, agrees, advising people to “stop belittling voodoo”. “Let’s internalise its teachings, which are the foundation of our spirituality and identity as Africans, as Beninese,” he says.