Voodoo is considered to be one of the oldest religions, and has been part of various civilizations in Africa for about 10,000 years! Though the basic wisdom and principles behind Voodoo existed in Africa much before the Europeans ever came to what was then known as the Dark Continent, Voodoo essentially came to the knowledge of Europeans with the slave trade. The structure of Voodoo, as is known to the Western world today, originated in Haiti during the European colonization.
Voodoo developed in the Western world due to the slave trade, and the policy of the colonists not to allow the different ethnic groups to come together as a community. These enslaved Africans, in their common misery of slavery, found faith in their ancient rites a common thread that could bind them. In addition to invoking their own Gods, they began to adopt and practice the rites and rituals of the other ethnic groups among them, and this integration of various beliefs led to what came to be known as Voodoo – a new religion!
The word Voodoo comes from the West African term Vodun – spirit. Voodoo, as practiced in Haiti, is the amalgamation of the ancient religious practices of ethnic groups as diverse as:
• The Fon – from of Benin and southwest Nigeria
• The Nago – from Yorubaland in Nigeria
• The Ibos – from southeast Nigeria
• Hausas – from north Nigeria
• The Caplaous, the Mondungues, the Mandinge, and the Malgaches
• The Congolese
• The Senegalese
• The Angolese, the Libyans, and the Ethiopians
The Power Of Voodoo
According to the practitioners of Voodoo, the universe is one, and each and everything affects something else. No event has life of its own, and there are no accidents. Everything happens according to a plan. The Voodoo rituals include prayers, dancing, singing and animal sacrifice.
The supreme deity in Voodoo religion is Bon Dieu, and the serpent plays a big part in this faith. The high priests and priestesses are known as Papa and Maman, and the serpent’s power is expressed through them. The Voodoo pantheon of deities is formed by the Loa – the spirits – which include Damballah, Ezili, Ogu, Agwe, Legba, among others, and who control nature, health, wealth and happiness of humans.
An animist faith that believes in natural objects having souls, Voodoo ceremonies have instances where the Loa possess the bodies of the faithful. The key elements of any ceremony are music and dance. The dance is an expression of spirituality, and not a prelude to sexual frenzies, as often thought by the Western world.
The power of Voodoo is such that it was central to the revolution that was conspired against the French rulers of Haiti. Their faith in their religion enabled them to survive the tribulations and the cruel persecution by the French rulers. Through the oracles consulted by the Voodoo priests, the political battle was planned, and the revolution, which exploded in 1791, brought forth the independence of Haiti in 1804.
Despite being one of the oldest religions, Voodoo has been categorized as primitive, sexually licentious, barbaric, based on superstition and spectacle. Its practitioners blame their then slave masters, who feared anything African, and especially the rituals and rites they could not understand. Forced into not practicing their tribal religions, they practiced in secret. They incorporated many elements of Catholicism into their rites. The French colonists of Haiti, fearing the power of African religious practices, prohibited the practice of Voodoo under threat of imprisonment, lashings, and even death.
Voodoo, today, survives as a legitimate religion in many places in the world. The descendants of the slaves of Africa, today, are trying to re-discover the faith of their ancestors.