UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Contemporary West African Vodun oudeyi, Azizou Atte


The word Vodun means spirit in Fon and Ewe, two languages spoken in coastal Benin, Togo, and South East of Ghana. The Vodun religion is an ancestral religion common to the population living in the west African coastal corridor covering the countries mentioned above. The deities comprise of the supreme god and intermediary gods who cover different domain of life. The supreme god is known as ‘Mawu’, a benevolent god who has the control of the whole universe. The Vodun religion in its encounter with imported religions was associated to a demonic religion and continues to lose membership due to the westernization of the region. The contemporary Vodun religion evolves in an environment where most members practice syncretism with Islam and Christianism and most members are secretive in their allegiance to the Vodun gods. For contemporary Vodun worshippers, the supreme god Mawu is most of the time assimilated to a monotheist god. Depending on the tribe, Mawu is either a female or a male or both. Mawu plays a moderator role in that all the intermediary gods’ actions are controlled. Below Mawu, there are seven intermediary divinities. These intermediary gods are active in everyday life and play a role in their domain. Sakpata is the god of the Earth. Hêbioso is the thunder god. Agbe is known as the god of the sea. Gû represents the god of war. Agê is in the domain of agriculture. Finally, Lêgba is the unpredictable god and serves as the contact point with the other gods. The ambivalence of modern worshippers is mostly visible in the rituals and sacrifices made to these gods in order to change the course of life in the changed world. Though some of Vodun priests can be found in the inner cities, the majority are located in rural area reinforcing the mystery and secrecy that surround them and their practitioners. Blood sacrifices, incantations, rituals, and the confinement of children and women in Vodun convents are some of the practices of this religion. Contemporary Vodun practitioners have adapted their religion to their time. With the introduction of monotheist religions, Vodun was predicted to disappear. Instead, Vodun continues to survive and has expanded to the diaspora where the Vodun has become an identity issue for former African slaves’ descendants in the Caribbean islands and the Americas. Even in contemporary West Africa, Vodun is used to affirm the African identity of its members in comparison to African Muslims and Christians.

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