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Vodoun ( Voodoo) is a derivative of the world's oldest known religions which have been around in Africa since the beginning of human civilization. Some conservative estimates these civilizations and religions to be over 10 000 years old.Vodun is practised by the Ewe people, Kabye people, Mina people and Fon people of southern and central Togo, southern and central Benin and (under a different name) the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria. is distinct from the various traditional animistic religions in the interiors of these same countries and is the main origin for religions of similar name found among the African Diaspora in the New World such as Haitian Vodou, the Vudu of Puerto Rico, Candomblé Jejé in Brazil (which uses the term Vodum), Louisiana Voodoo and Santería in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. All these are syncretized with Christianity and the traditional religions of the Kongo people of Congo and Angola.

The word Voodoo has been translated as "the snake under whose auspices gather all who share the faith". The high priest and/or priestess of the faith (often called Papa or Maman) are the vehicles for the expression of the serpent's power. The supreme deity is Bon Dieu. There are hundreds of spirits called Loa who control nature, health, wealth and happiness of mortals. The Loa form a pantheon of deities that include Damballah, Ezili, Ogu, Agwe, Legba and others.

Voodoo is an animist faith.Music and dance are key elements to Voodoo ceremonies. Ceremonies were often termed by whites "Night Dancing" or "Voodoo Dancing".

MAWU ( the Supreme God )

The South Bénin cultural area of the Fon, Gun, Mina and Ewe peoples is characterized by a similar conception of divinity: belief in the existence of God is general. This God, recognized as the Supreme Being, as Transcendent, is referred to by the term Mawu. That God is the creator of the universe, of mankind and of all that exists is generally accepted. And this notion of God existed among these peoples before the arrival of the great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam). With the Fon, for example, this god Mawu is also named Sêgbo lisa, Dada Sêgbo, Sêmêdo or Gbêdoto depending on whether one is stressing the creation (Mawu, Dada-Sêgbo), the principle of being (Sêmêdo) or life (Gbêdoto).

But if there is no doubt at all about the Supreme God Mawu in the mentality of these peoples, where do the very popular practices of Vodun come from? To answer this question means showing the existing relationship between Mawu and Vodun.

The relationship between Mawu and Vodun

The absolute transcendence attributed to Mawu does not allow one to conceive of his relationship of immanence with humanity. Yet the human spirit needs a relationship of salvific proximity, of easy access to the Supreme Being. And since creatures manifest the Creator, man finds sacred forces in certain phenomena or situations that are beyond his understanding. It is through this vision of the world that Vodun emerges.

For the people of South Benin, Mawu is good, but he does not concern himself directly with man; he is omnipotent but has delegated his power to the Vodun(s). Hence the Vodun(s), recognized as Mawu’s creatures, according to the Fon expression "Mawu wê do Vodun lê", are Mawu’s representatives among men, signs of the divinity’s immanence in response to the spiritual desires of mankind. In this sense, Vodun designates all that is sacred, all power coming from the invisible world to influence the world of the living, everything that is mysterious. For this reason, it is explicitly distinct from Mawu. But we find that there is no actual worship of the latter in the tradition, except certain spontaneous prayers or references such as "Mawu na blo" (God will act), "Kpê Mawu ton" (may God decide thus) used on different occasions. The Vodun(s) receive the worship because of their proximity to man compared to Mawu. Divine qualities are attributed to them, characterised as the spirits they are considered to be above all natural laws. All these attributes are the work of Mawu. Examining the internal dynamics of the Vodun pantheon will give a clearer idea of the dependent relationship the Vodun(s) have with Mawu.


Firstly, the Vodun(s) are considered as the sons of Mawu, God the Creator. Here are the seven most important of these:

Sakpata: This is the eldest son of Mawu to whom the earth was entrusted: "Ayi Vodun", the Vodun of the earth. His power is feared and terrifying. His attributes are the arm of smallpox, scissors, a chain and black, white and red spots. Sakpata has many sons, including the Vodun of leprosy (Ada Tangni), and of incurable sores (sinji aglosumato).

Xêvioso(or Xêbioso): This is the Vodun of the sky (Jivodun) who manifests himself in thunder and lightning. He is Mawu’s second son and is considered a Vodun of justice who punishes thieves, liars, criminals and evil-doers. His attibutes are the thunderbolt, the double axe, the ram, the colour red and fire. Xêvioso has several sons including Sogbo, Aklobè, Avlékété.

Agbe: This is the Vodun of the sea (Tovodun). He is also known as Hu. He is represented by a serpent, a symbol of everything that gives life. One of his powerful children is Dan Toxosu who manifests himself in the birth of monster babies.

Gu: This is the Vodun of iron and war. He gives man his different technologies. He is the Vodun who does not accept complicity with evil. Therefore he is capable of killing all accomplices in acts of infamy if he is appealed to. This is expressed by the Fon saying "da gu do".

Agê: This fifth son of Mawu is the Vodun of agriculture and the forests. He reigns over animals and birds.

Jo: This Vodun is characterized by invisibility. He is the Vodun of the air.

Lêgba: This is Mawu’s youngest son. He received no endowments at all because all had already been shared out among his elders. He is jealous, and it is he who loosens the rigid structure of the pantheon. He is the Vodun of the unpredictable, of what cannot be assigned to any other and he is characterised by daily tragedies; all that is beyond good and evil.

Alongside Mawu’s sons, one finds other Vodun(s) that are protectors of equally important clans. These are the Toxwyo: eponymous deified ancestors. They maintain a link between the invisible world and human beings in their daily lives. We can classify the Vodun(s) as follows:

Inter-ethnic Vodun(s) linked to natural phenomena: Jivodun: Xêvioso; Ayivodun: Sakpata; Tovodun: Agbe.

Inter-ethnic Vodun(s) linked to historical-mythical persons: Lêgba, Gu.

Ethnic Vodun(s): Akovodun (Agasu for the Houégbajavi of Abomey). The Toxwyo are in this category.

Modern Vodun(s): These Vodun(s) are mainly from Ghana. They are Goro who protects against witchcraft, and Koku, the Vodun of the occult powers of violence.

So, it can be said that the Vodun(s) constitute a special class of Mawu’s living creatures. They are above mankind, but they are not "God". Let us recognise, together with Fr. Barthélemy Adoukonou and all the others, that defining Vodun is not an easy task, even for Vodun adepts. Fon expressions like: "Vodun gongon", "Vodun d’ablu" (Vodun is deep, Vodun is obscure) say it all. This is why, as Mgr. Robert Sastre said, we must refer to the social and cultural context which gives rise to Vodun in order to grasp what Vodun really is.


The word "gbê" which means "life", also means "the universe". The created universe in its cosmic deployment is not foreign to the deployment of Vodun. In the concrete expressions of the latter, there is a Vodun of the earth (Sakpata), a Vodun of the sky (Xêvioso), a Vodun of the sea (Agbé) and Vodun(s)representing the ancestors (Toxwyo), as we have seen. Indeed, all the elements of the universe are involved in the Vodun phenomenon. It is not that the mind-set of South Benin imagination conceives of a Vodun cosmogenesis: Vodun is thus neither the generator nor the creator of the universe. But its link to everything in nature is one of mediation and of the protection of man. In fact, its link with "Gbê" only finds its meaning through its link with "Gbêto" (man).


The religiosity manifest in man through the Vodun phenomenon makes him a subject who places himself at the service of its symbolism. And while serving it, he makes use of it in return. Furthermore, what men call Vodun, is the unknowable, mystery, the ineffable when it comes to natural elements; it is the extraordinary, the hero, the unbeatable, the powerful when it is a question of human beings. Before the name Vodun is given to them, they are referred to as "nu mê sên" (venerable thing; worthy of adoration). This gives rise to the cults and their impacts. After objectively identifying the Vodun, man becomes its subject. Henceforth, not a single aspect of his life escapes his object of adoration and veneration. The , messenger of the Vodun(s), intervenes while a child is still in his mother’s womb, to identify his destiny and, if need be, to avert it. Similarly, throughout all the stages of life, from birth, and through the different existential situations, the Vodun faithful will feel enfolded in the omnipresence of Vodun, and will constantly benefit from the watchful and protective eye of the Pantheon, with all the consequences of this solicitude. But curiously and paradoxically, Vodun does not "accompany" a faithful in death, to the beyond. At the funeral of a Vodun adept, a rite exists to remove the spirit of the Vodun of which he is the "spouse", so as to leave him to his fate. Here there are perhaps two meanings that are important to note. Firstly, the Vodun takes care of the living and not of the dead; secondly, Vodun is essentially an intermediary between man and God the Creator, to whom he simply delivers him when he dies.

As a principle of mediation for man, Vodun also plays an important role in the organisation of human society.

VODOUN : FROM HENNU ( Family ) TO TO ( Country ) : SOCIOLOGY



Hênnu designates the family, reduced or extended, the first unit of social organisation. It is a blood-line community, united by a single ancestor, with food or moral prohibitions, family Vodun cults and divinities to which the family is loyal. Tò is a grouping of several families or several xwè (parental enclosures). As in the family, it too has a hierarchy of prohibitions (Tosu), prescribed sacred practices (sin), protector Vodun(s) (Tovodun) and priests dedicated to the cult. Here, more than at the family level, the reciprocal influence of political and religious authority is apparent. More often than not, it is Vodun that prevails in the consecration of customary chiefs. And generally the Vodun oracles are also irrevocable: hence the fear they inspire and which provides for an easier take-over control of social phenomena. In this way, in traditional society, a social category without its Vodun(s) is fragile and bound to disappear. It should be noted here that quite apart from the ethnic or inter-ethnic Vodun(s), most Vodun(s) are all the more efficient when they are of foreign origin, in other words, imported.








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