Africa is one of the few continents where superstition and peculiar cultural practices are still very common. In fact, it is the only place where you will hear stories of people using fetish charms to bring back a lost lover, attract customers to a business, or return stolen items.
In Togo, a tiny country in West Africa, there is a thriving market of charms, locally referred to as “voodoo,” which is attracting customers and visitors from all over the world.
Over the years, there has been major arguments on what exactly voodoo is, with some seeing it as a cult that practices black magic and others seeing the practitioners of this tradition as witchdoctors or occultists.
But those who practice it argue that voodoo is just a traditional religion that originates in Africa, adding that it is a combination of various African, Catholic, and Native American traditions and is a community-centered spiritual practice that supports individual experience, empowerment, and responsibility.
Either way, voodoo bears a remarkable difference from other common religious practices in Africa and the world at large, spurring a lucrative business in Togo.
Consulting the gods
Some people believe that voodoo priests and traditional healers at the fetish market in Lome, Togo’s capital, can consult the gods directly on a wide range of issues, including terminal ailments.
They say there are more than 40 different gods in the voodoo religion, each of which chooses its special priest with whom it communicates through dreams, broken shells, and other means.
These priests have constructed special huts, where they communicate with the gods and have small statues that act as channels for communication, according to Atlas Obscura.
Apart from the small statues that serve as channels, there are many other macabre objects used in this practice, most of which are animal body parts obtained from carcasses.
They include common animals, such as bats, goats, dogs, chameleons, monkeys, and many others. Some voodoo priests say they can make an athlete stronger and faster using a combination of secret herbs with the skulls of a horse and a deer and the heads of a dog and a rabbit.
Before the Togolese government imposed tough laws on the sale of voodoo objects obtained from endangered animals, such as lions, the priests used to sell an intact lion’s head for about $1,000.
And at the main voodoo market in Akodessewa, a district of Lome, visitors have to pay an entrance fee of about $10 and an additional fee (one negotiated with the gods) if they wish to buy fetish charms or have their ailments diagnosed and treated by an experienced voodoo priest.
Origin of Voodoo in Togo
This spiritual practice goes way back to the 18th century during the Kingdom of Dahomey, which is present-day Benin (Togo’s neighbor). In an attempt to streamline the voodoo religion, the kingdom established a commercial area, where charms and other fetish remedies were sold.
Over the years, the trade has spread across the region, with Togo serving as the main hub.
The markets offer locals and visitors a rare experience of the often misconstrued and sometimes dreaded voodoo religion.
Some practitioners have even devised ways of synthesizing traditional voodoo with modern practices to make it a more lucrative business and tourist activity.
It is indeed a peculiar practice that will continue to attract all kinds of interpretations, especially in this era of civilization, but on the question of whether it works, only those who have had the experience can either confirm or deny.