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VOODOO BRIDES

In the Western world Voodoo is mainly associated with mystic rites and bloody sacrifices, [spirit possession and a belief in dark powers. For the Voodoo followers in Benin, however, Voodoo is much more than an ancient ancestral religion. For them, Voodoo is a comprehensive world view which gives meaning and direction to important events of life and forms a guideline for their everyday life.
Voodoo ties in with the traditional understanding of the world that goes back thousands of years in the history of West Africa. In this world view, all life on earth – plants, humans and animals – consists of spirit and matter. Matter is perishable, whereas the spirit will remain alive.
The specific Voodoos to whom Voodoo convents are dedicated are the most powerful in the spirit world. The spirits of ancestors also remain in this world.
The brides of a Voodoo, named Voodoosi, priests or priestesses who have undergone the required initiation rites and are responsible for carrying out the numerous ceremonies, the rituals and the sacrifices to be made for gaining the favour or appeasing the anger of a Voodoo.
Becoming a voodoosi, a priest or priestess and bride of the Voodoo, is not a matter of choice. Voodoosi are chosen and called by the Voodoo. Once chosen, being called cannot be refused. Refusal will certainly lead to the Voodoo putting a curse on the chosen child or a member of its family.

If a child becomes seriously ill and the doctors in hospitals as well as the traditional healers are unable to establish the cause of this illness, the parents will often decide to visit the bokonon with the request to consult the FA oracle. In most cases the bokonon subsequently communicates to the parents that a Voodoo has chosen to call this child, boy or girl, to become his bride. After the oracle has determined which Voodoo is calling the child, the child is taken to the convent dedicated to this Voodoo, to a secluded courtyard with a small spirit house. Here, the chosen children will be healed of their illness by means of rituals and traditional medicines
During this healing process the child will be reborn as the bride of the Voodoo by whom it was called.

As soon as these children are healed, they will be required to learn all about the voodoo language, songs, dances and rituals. During this period of initiation, the children live in the Voodoo convent separated from their friends and families and are not permitted to speak their own language or attend school.
The oracle decides when and accompanied by which ceremonial sacrifices the child can safely return home to its parents and restart school.
From that moment the child will be a voodoosi, a bride of the Voodoo. After being allowed to leave the convent, it is the children’s own choice whether or not to take part in the performance of future ceremonies. Irrespective of their choice they will be protected by the Vvoodoo and held in high regard by the local community. No one will ever harm them because they are regarded as the brides of a Voodoo.

THE “ALL CHILDREN TO SCHOOL” PROJECT

Gilbert Djofin is head of the “PABEEB” Foundation, a foundation created for the purpose of protecting children in Benin. As a juvenile lawyer, he is employed by the Benin government. He has occupied himself with the problem of children living in Voodoo convents for years. Gilbert is a Voodoo man as well and his fears for the power of the Voodoo caused him to refrain from taking any action.
Eventually, in 2014 he contacted the President of the Voodoo chiefs in Couffo, Mama Hounza Tognon. It then became clear that the Voodoo chiefs considered children living in Voodoo convents for years to be a huge problem, too.
Various consultations among the chiefs of the Voodoo convents and between the leaders of Voodoo and the secular leaders resulted in an agreement on a Letter of Intent signed by all parties involved in October 2015.
The starting point adopted by the parties in this Letter of Intent was that the period for children to live in Voodoo convents must be limited to a maximum of three months.
This project is a fine example of a process of seeking a balance between maintaining the old traditions needed by the people who would feel lost without them t, and the new demands of modern life. In this process, the traditional religious leaders work together towards reaching an agreement with the secular leaders in a typical West African way, by having endless, detailed conversations until the parties succeed in reaching a compromise reflecting mutual respect.
Thanks to this project, during the past year over a thousand children, about six hundred girls and about four hundred boys, were able to leave the Voodoo convents. Most of these children now live together with their parents and attend school.
For those children who have lost their parents and who do not have a home to return to, the juvenile lawyer Gilbert Djofin has founded the Family Home named “La Solidarité”.