“As long as the lions do not tell their own stories,
the hunters will always be the heroes”
Living with the voodoos is an intimate portrait of the people, their ancestors and the voodoos in a village in Benin
In Living with the voodoos, we see the everyday life, listen to the stories told by the elders, and attend ceremonies in places that are normally off-limits for the uninitiated.
“Someone that is no longer willing to learn from others
will only be considered all-knowing in the land of fools”
WHY DOES THIS FILM NEED TO BE MADE?
Due to the influence of institutions like the Catholic Church and Hollywood, the Western idea of voodoo often involves mysterious rites, bloody offerings, possession, and the belief in dark powers. For the people of West Africa, however, voodoo is much more than that. Voodoo is a gift form their ancestors, an all-encompassing view of the world, which is supposed to give purpose and meaning to life. To them, voodoo, vaudou or vodun is a guideline to the comings and goings of everyday life.
It may seem self-evident, but due to the emphasis that is mostly put on the exotic aspects of voodoo we often forget that these people are looking for answers to the same fundamental questions of life that also occupy us. Voodoo has given them satisfying answers for centuries. The rituals it prescribes are helpful for facing the uncertainties of life, they give comfort where comfort is needed, and give hope for a better future whenever despair threatens to paralyze them
Our friends in Benin are proud of their traditions, and they want to showcase their pride. They are being overwhelmed by influences that are supposed to convince them that our Western way of living is superior to theirs. It’s about time that they can now show us that there are other ways of celebrating life. Film, as opposed to just words, would seem to be the best medium for this.
In 2016, during one of our travels, we meet Gilbert Djofin, a jovial and cheerful advocate of children’s rights, who has shown concern for the plight of the children in the many inaccessible voodoo convents in southwest Benin.
These children have been chosen by a voodoo to be educated as his priest or priestess. Behind the walls of the voodoo convents, they are taught the prayers and rituals that are dictated by the cult of this voodoo. Often over the course of many years, and in strict isolation, they practice the songs, dance and language that are needed to gratify the voodoo.
Gilbert is both a children’s rights advocate and a voodooman. He has a foot in both camps, being involved with both the modern world and a world that is dominated by centuries-old traditions.
During our first meeting he tells us about his attempts to, together with the voodoo chiefs, search for a balance between respecting those old traditions and meeting the requirements for the children’s education posed by modern society.
He has tells us about the palavers that have gone on for hours, days, or sometimes even weeks, to reach a compromise that is satisfactory for all parties, without anyone having had to sacrifice some respect. Gilbert is a gripping storyteller and we are his curious audience. He invites us to accompany him during his work the next day. That day turns into an exciting week during which meet multiple voodoo communities, their priests and priestesses, their religious leaders, and eventually the highest ranking voodoo chief in the Couffo district of Benin, 89 year old Mama Hounza Tognon.
That meeting, a pure coincidence for us, but an unmistakable arrangement of the voodoos for Gilbert and Mama, forms the beginning of a unique friendship and a close collaboration
that was destined to have this film as a result.
Since 2016, we have been supporting Gilbert’s work through our foundation Child in Benin. We have visited him and Mama five times now, and every time we are struck again by the hospitality and openness with which they received us. Mama guarantees our safety. He prays to the voodoos and asks them permission to let us pass through the gates of the sanctuaries.
Guided by the never unflagging Gilbert, we learn to look at the world from a different and new perspective, a world we thought we had some knowledge of after traveling through Africa for 30 years.
By now, the people of Kenouhoué, the village where Gilbert and his family live, have accepted us as part of their own family. They have also become convinced that their ancestors and the voodoos sent us there with a special mission. For them, coincidence doesn’t exist. Coincidence only exists for people who do not want to know.
They take their time in answering all our questions, even the most silly or painful ones. They are amused by our ignorance, and reassure us when we struggled with rules that are prescribed by the centuries-old traditions.
They encouraged us to document everything, first with photographs and later on film. Because of all this, it quickly and inevitably became a duty and great honor for us to give the inhabitants of Kenouhoué a platform with which they could show what voodoo really means to them.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
Since 2017, we have visited Benin on three occasion and filmed during fifteen weeks in total. Not only the traditional authorities, the religious chiefs, the priests and priestesses, the village chiefs and the king, but also the worldly authorities, the mayors, the gendarmerie and the district governor have provided their full cooperation. They are all aware of the importance of propagating their shared cultural heritage. Christians, Muslims and animists, all of them are indebted to their ancestors.
Hundreds of hours of footage were shot on location, and, together with the villagers, we watched, translated, and provided explanation for dozens of hours of scenes. We have cut down the footage to separate scenes with a total running time of three hours, and are now working on a raw cut of about 90 minutes.
So far, we have been able to pay for and manage everything by ourselves. The advice given by people from the field came free of charge up until now. But for the post-production of the video and audio, we will require the help of specialists. Because they believe in this dream as much as we do, they are willing to help us for a reduced fee. We, however, are unable to provide the necessary funds ourselves. For over a year now, the voodoos of Benin have been asked to help us bring this project to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to hire editors with mere good will. Therefore we are asking for your financial support.
OUR AMBASSADOR WADE DAVIS
We are very proud to have Wade Davis as ambassador for our documentary.
Wade Davis is perhaps the most articulate and influential western advocate for the world’s indigenous cultures. A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”
“The African Vodoun is not a black magic cult; it is a complex metaphysical worldview. The word, itself, is derived from the Fon term for spirit, or god.
That such a profound spiritual tradition has been so thoroughly misunderstood and thoughtlessly denigrated is no accident of history; it is a reflection of a long and ignoble history that began as slavery spawned racism, as Europeans, in particular, systematically dehumanized and debased African peoples and cultures, if only to be able to rationalize their heinous and morally repugnant deeds.
We all need to acknowledge this truth, even as we support all efforts to reveal the true spiritual wonder of the African legacy. I wish Herma, Niek and the team all the very best, as they tell this story, and thank them for their persistence and dedication”