African Adventure: Exploring Voodoo in Togo
Forget zombies and voodoo dolls. If you want a high-tech spell in a low-tech environment, Lomé’s voodoo fetish market is the place to go. Sure, you have to fly to West Africa. And, it isn’t easy crossing the border from Ghana to Togo (this is where your high school French sure comes in handy) but once you’ve made it to the bustling, crumbling remains of the former French colony, you’re nearly there.
You can smell the market a mile away. The stench wafts past the spirited crowds of market traders, around the calm ocean, and along the dusty streets and alleys of mud-brick huts, fueled by the relentless Equatorial sun.
Once you reach the sandy lot, crammed stalls of gruesome galleries are lined up on either side of a square. Imagine your local farmer’s market with decomposing baboon heads and dried-out alligator paws instead of fresh berries and herbs. The market is devoted to the sale of these startling ingredients, which traditional healers say can make magic charms. All the makings you need for a spell can be purchased here.
Before you have a chance to snap a photo (and that will cost you), an affable translator — possibly from a neighboring country like Benin — is likely to approach you and insist on accompanying you on a “tour. ” Before you can say no, you’ll be chased by adorable kids thrusting termite-ridden idols in your face, offering murmured incantations for about fifty U.S. dollars.
Politely decline, saunter past the skewers of mummified bats, and make your way over to one of the voodoo shrines where you can pick a spell from a litany of enchantments. Need to sell that house? Find true love? Or maybe you just need to lower your cholesterol. Whatever the desire, the voodoo chief will negotiate with the local spirits and offer you a take-home fetish of your very own. Coupons aren’t accepted; prices are determined by the toss of some bones.
The experience offers a mesmerizing point of view on local spiritual beliefs. And don’t scoff. A travel buddy who bought a couple spells informed me afterwards that each one of them came true. Go figure. Oh, and if after negotiations you get cold feet, at least offer to make a slight donation or run the risk of a hex.
Situated on the Gulf of Guinea, little-known Togo is West Africa’s smallest country and Africa at its most dazzling and overwhelming. Neighbors include Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. Buffeted by the sweeping Atlantic, Togo features tropical, hilly landscapes and a diverse culture with over 40 ethnic groups, making it a great destination for adventure travelers seeking somewhere off-the-beaten-track. It’s also a balmy beach lover’s paradise— the whole Atlantic seafront of Togo has tranquil, white sand beaches lined by coconut groves, perfect for unhurried relaxation.
Voodoo has become one of the world’s most maligned religions. Don’t let it scare you. It actually embodies ancestor worship and a belief that spirits dwell within inanimate objects. The gods inhabit shrines and religious objects known as fetishes, which can take the form of carved statuettes or organic materials such as animal parts, cowry shells, and any number of sacred objects. The word “voodoo” comes from the Fon language, meaning “a kind of power which is mysterious and, at the same time, fearsome.”
The pantheon of Voodoo gods is extensive—the very word “voodoo” connotes “spirit,” but there is but one God, who can appear in many manifestations. These numerous forms constitute the Voodoo pantheon.
WHERE TO STAY
The Mercure Sarakawa hotel is a grand ole dame from the 1960’s that appears stuck in a time warp. The sweeping mid-century modern architecture is quite fabulous. Located in a grand coconut grove, this four-star hotel sits off the beach at Lome, only five minutes from the center of town. The security is great and the hotel offers 164 air-conditioned rooms, including 72 with sea views, plus two restaurants, two bars (with plenty of chain smokers), the largest Olympic swimming pool in Africa, three tennis courts, and golf. Boulevard du Mono: BP 2232, Lome, 0, Togo; +228 02276590
HOW TO GET THERE
Air France flies to Paris from most major U.S. cities, with connecting flights from Paris to Lomé three times a week.
Royal Air Maroc has connecting flights from London to Lomé via Casablanca.
Photos by Robert Ellsworth
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With great interest I have read this article. I found it especially interesting that you traveled to Togo in West Africa, because I myself went there to visit Togo and Benin. During that tour I took part in several voodoo ceremonies. This tour resulted in a book with 120 pages, 166 photos and three maps. The complete book can be previewed on the Internet. Christa Neuenhofer, TOGO AND BENIN: HOMELANDS OF VOODOO
It is a “book on demand” and maybe some of the readers who went to Togo and Benin or want to go there might also be interested in it. It could be a kind of preparation for such a tours.
i read ur text and im interesting .to mit a guide in benin .im interssting please help me to have a number of guide in benin .thinx please write back
Quite interesting to see that you have travelled that far. How safe is it to go there. How would I know or tell the difference between a false and true voodoo priest.what about the language barrier. Please email back about your advice