Many traditional West African religions centre on the belief in life after death and the belief that spirits of the deceased influence the living world. This makes them to hold many practises inside and outside of their voodoo shrine in regards to the ones in the underworld.
This influence is held not only over living relatives but also over the weather, crops, livestock, wild animals, and whole communities. It is, however, not only deceased ancestors who hold such influence but the gods who must also be appeased. Therefore here are some thrilling facts or patterns on these shrines and the deities enthroned in them….
10) Blood sprinkling
In West Africa, no shrine is deemed completely sacred and powerful without blood sacrifice. Blood sprinkling is a major service offered to the gods through their voodoo shrines. It is one of the major ways to calm the spirit of African ancestors or to ask favour from the gods. Blood sprinkling is majorly a way to connect with the innermost part of the spirit world during heavy sacrifice or during a big festival. In eastern part of Nigeria, the chief priest may like to offer a big cock or goat to the gods.
The major way to get the animal across the spirit world is by twisting off the head of the cock, turn it upside down and then let the bloods sprinkle all over the medium. If bigger animals like goat, the priest servants are to slit the throat letting the bloods to sprinkle all over. The blood will be left at these alters of the innermost realm where it got coagulated and dried up till the next blood sprinkling.
In most cultures in West Africa such as the Igbo in Eastern part of Nigeria, the remainder of the blood are cooked. This forms a soft solid puffy food that are chopped into lumps and served as porridge. It is only the men initiated into the cult of the deity are meant to take part in the feast.
9) The Beauty in Creative wood Carving
It is a common thing to find creative wood carvings in West African shrines. These fetish woods carvings sometimes depict the character of the gods or the spirit of the ancestors it’s representing. These carving are mostly little humans. Some may be heads of the gods. While some may be masks assuming different forms and colours which are worn as masquerade to evolve the real character of the deity being served.
They were more than a simple disguise, as when the whole costume was worn the person beneath it ceased to exist, and the character of the mask came to life. The masks sometimes serve as the face of the gods or deity. In most cultures these masks are carved to have a weird form which is barely seen in human world. They may assume colours of different kind. Colour is often used to differentiate between positive and negative characteristics of the gods. A white mask may indicate positive qualities such as the world of spirits (death), purity, beneficence, and wealth. Such masks represent beautiful, serene, normally feminine characters. By contrast black may represent horrific, fierce, and masculine characters.
Relatives may keep other kinds of fetish carvings in the shrines which has a symbol of what they expect the gods to do for them. Such carvings are very small coffins, wood carvings of a pregnant woman, and wood carvings of knife etc. All these are kept entangled with some incantation to send messages to the spirit world.
8) Animals Dedicated To The Deities Are Venerated
In some cultures, certain kind of animals are venerated or revered because of the belief that they were own or sent by the gods. There were some powerful myths behind the reason of veneration of these animals. These myths vary from culture to culture. It was forbidden for these animals to be killed or eaten. It was also forbidden for such animals to be maltreated if found within your reach unless such a one needs to test the rat of the gods.
In Awka, the capital of Anambra state in the eastern part of Nigeria, monkeys are venerated and treated with respect. It was forbidden to kill monkeys and if killed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, such a one has to do burial ceremony like it’s done to humans. The myth behind the veneration of monkey in Awka was that during tribal wars in the olden times, monkey’s serves as criers. They climb up trees to spy on the incoming invaders on which they make noises alerting the Awka people. This helped them to defeat their enemies. But unfortunately this culture of veneration is on extinction.
The Python Temple of Ouidah Benin Republic is a place of worship by people of the Vodun religion. The temple is contained within a relatively small area of about 12 square metres and it is dedicated to the “snake god” Dagbe, much of which is inhabited by pythons of the same type. They are not venomous, and they are used to being treated well by humans as they are fed and revered by the locals.
Apparently, the pythons can move around as they like, and will often slither into people homes, where they will be fed then returned to the temple. The Python Temple of Ouidah is fast becoming a favourite tourist attraction.
7) Highly Supernatural Power
Voodoo shrines are houses were one can communicate with the spiritual realm and appease the gods and the spirit of ancestors, therefore its deemed supernatural. It is believed that shrines are bestowed with high supernatural powers. These powers are dependent on the extent and quality of sacrifice offered to it. It is also dependent on the talent of the priest or priestess appeasing its gods.
It has been observed that a powerful shrine chooses its prophet and only one chosen by the gods to intercede for the people of the land has the power to invoke and direct the spirit. Therefore, a shrine maintains its supernatural power if it’s maintained by the priest or priestess whom it has chosen. Powerful voodoo shrine is believed to attack the inhibiters with bad omen up to the extent of gradually killing them if no one maintains it further.
It is known that if the deity of a shrine chooses one and he refuses to be its prophet, it will shatter the life of such a one. Nothing that such a one does will be successful until he/she comes back to answer the call of the gods. It is called ‘Igba Agwu’ in Eastern part of Nigeria. African shrines are so powerful that people can take oath on it’s alter and it’s bound to kill whoever lies to it. As one who know the nemesis, you don’t wait a seconds if your case is table in front of the shrines.
This method of suing people to this shrine has killed a lot of people who in one way or the other has refused to answer the gods. So therefore it has been a preferred way to settle cases which may take long to resolve by civil way or which one may think might be bought over.
6) Every Clan With Their Own local Deity
Sometimes it’s a game of each to its own. Every clan is expected to have a small shrine in the major entrance linking all their houses. These semi shrines are meant to guard and protect the relatives in that clan. It is believed that these semi shrines can destroy any charm or bad omen brought in by an enemy upon entering through the main entrance where the shrine is located.
The eldest male of such a clan are meant to be the priest who appeases the little deity on behalf of his relatives. Still the same thing applies; children of such a clan are not suppose to come near or fiddle with the matters of the gods unless initiated into the little cult when of age, especially males. In some cultures, it is under these shrines that the meetings of the clans are held. In eastern part of Nigeria, before the coming of the colonial masters, these little shrines are enthroned in many ways. Each clan can have more than one form of this shrine each having its own functionality to the people of such a clan.
Enthronement of these forms of shrines can be of different ways. One such method of enthronement is seen in Igbo culture in Nigeria where a human sacrifice is done to invoke a deity that will see to the success and successful birth of all the children of the clan. This is called ‘Akwali Omumu’ (god of fertility) in one Igbo dialect. During this sacrifice, a full grown virgin is tied up and buried in spot of enthronement after which little hurt is built in the spot. It is expected that any new born child has to be dedicated to this little voodoo shrine for its success and the success of the clan.
5)Sacred And Secrecy Of The Highest Order
Things of the gods are handled with care and are seen as sacred. Like has been saying throughout this article, no one who knows the nemesis dares to mess with the gods and its fetish materials. Everyone are not meant to enter this shrine unless you have been initiated or been permitted, as in the case of women.
In other to conserve the secrecy of the spirits, males who have come of age are meant to be initiated into the masquerade cult which is in regards to the deity. It is then of mandatory that any member of these masquerade cult would never spill the bean on whatever that is going on within the circus. Due to how sacred these shrines are, the priest or priestess sometimes enters the shrines backwards instead of frontwards. Anything that was dedicated to the deity are not meant to be touch recklessly or toiled with.
Due to this, people come running into the hands of the gods in the time of persecution, appealing to it to accept them. No one will dare touch anyone own by the gods because they are seen as sacred and in turn not to mingle with ordinary humans. In Igbo culture in eastern part of Nigeria, such a one who ran into the hands of the gods is called ‘Nwa Osu’ (a child of the gods).
4) Each Major Deity Has A Masquerade Dedicated To It
Members of these secret societies belonging to the deity of the village attempt to contact the gods and spirits of village ancestors through offerings, prayers, songs, dances and ‘plays’ known as masquerades. Masks worn during masquerading are often linked to particular supernatural characters. They may also be associated with specific rituals performed at festivals, religious ceremonies, weddings, or funerals.
Therefore each big shrine has its own masquerade which is worn by a very powerful young male in the village society; oops am not suppose to tell. In Igbo culture in Nigeria these masquerades are believed to evolve from the mouth of ant-hills from the underworld. Some masquerades are so powerful that it is believed to cause miscarriage for a pregnant woman if such a one deliberately sees the face of the masquerade.
At the same note an uninitiated man is not allowed to come close otherwise he will have the full rat of the gods. Some of this masquerade is celebrated once in a year. Before this masquerade is played, the chief priest or priestess of the deity holds rituals to intercede with the spirit world to bestow power upon the masquerade for protection.
3) Foods Are Offered To Deities Before Man
A man who woke up in the morning, scooped a cup of palm wine from one of the jars of palm wine does not drink it immediately. He must lower his hand and pour some palm wine on the ground in regards to the oracle and the spirits of his ancestors whom he believed has been protecting him and his family.
In Eastern part of Nigeria, during big festivals, Kola nut are broken and some thrown to the grounds for respect and honour of the deity before any other man will eat part of the Kola nut or any other kola nut or food in the ceremony. In Yoruba Culture, Igbo culture, Benin culture and most cultures around west Africa, yam festivals are held once in a year after harvest to thank the gods for the years fruitful harvest.
During this festivals people of the society are gathered with their king, where they first served a cooked yam porridge to the gods, thanking it and praying for success of the land before farmers can go on to eat or sell their hand work.
2) Deities Can Have Their Own Wives
Fiashidi as defined in the Ewe language is a “queen fit for a king” and a “wife of the god.”: Trokosi is a traditional practice of sexual servitude in parts of Ghana, Togo and Benin. Girls as young as six are offered to a fetish shrine priest as a way of appeasing the gods for a relative’s transgression. The French speaking Benin and Togo call it Voodoosi, while some communities in Ghana call it Trokosi or fiashidi.
The tradition, which has been part of the Ewe culture in Ghana for centuries, requires a girl to spend the rest of her life as a “wife of the gods”. Today, trokosi priests are the most revered figures in many rural areas. Families believe that if they refuse to give a girl to a fetish shrine, it will bring bad luck to the community, ranging from poverty, disease and death. The priests justify the practice by saying that Trokosi are like priestesses who copulate with the gods through their earthly servants.
The Ewe people live in coastal areas in south-eastern Ghana and the southern areas of Togo and Benin. Their ancient religion is rooted in the powers of the earth and its supernatural forces. They believe in God, the Supreme Being, and often refer to God as a spouse. Tro, a war god, is one of those deities.
Hundreds of Troxovi (trokosi) shrines exist throughout the region, each hosting an uncountable number of fiashidi who call the god, Tro, their husband. In Klikor, a town of around 8,000 people near the border of Togo, the Troxovi shrine is the most powerful religious institution in the community.
In this modern time, fiashidi are under no physical obligation to the shrine or priest. Many remain in the town, establishing their own households and businesses and receiving economic support from both their family and the priest. They lead people to prayer and help around the shrine.
This Ritual servitude is still practised in the Volta region in Ghana, in spite of being outlawed in 1998, and despite carrying a minimum three-year prison sentence for conviction.
Horrific characteristics are one thing possessed by African voodoo shrines. It is designed in such a way to portray horrific nature of the spirits therefore no one is expected to mess with the things of the gods. It is believed that the spirit realm has some remnants of horror and fear, so every wood sculptural art in these shrines shows nature of the spiritual realm.
Due to this believe some of the shrines are located in the remote part of the forest were it is kept away from casting a spell from those who might deliberately and not respectfully come in contact with them. Due to the horror that can be meted on any deliberate trespasser, no one is allowed closer to the almighty alters unless the gods are appeased or such a one is one of the deity’s cult members.
Even the voodoo priest assumes a weird attire to mimic the horrific spirits. In some cultures most of them are known to be born with a bob Marley type of hair which twirls and grow very longer without shaving and even washing, giving them a fearful appearance.
Some do hide their faces behind black and white chalks rubbed all over the faces. The appearance of a special type of staff of stick they held called ‘Ofor’ or ‘Ogugu’ such as in Eastern part of Nigeria is one thing almost every priest must have.
The decorations bestowed on the tip of these ‘Ofor’ vary from priest to priest which produces another horrific appearance. Therefore no one messes around with a priest or priestess with ‘Ofor’ because it’s believed that their power is majorly inched in these sticks.
Written By: ANEKE FRANCIS
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