Nederlandse versie

Vodun fetish

from Togo and Benin

Vodun (voodoo) is the age-old West African belief (mainly in Togo and Benin) in a magic field of force that rules our earthly existence. A world in which fetishes, ritual pots en figures made out of clay can attract gods, goddesses, ancestors and spirits. Also a world in which the Vodun gods have to be fed offerings so that they will not land people in disaster, and in which figures charged with powers can liberate an individual from a hopeless situation.

With no exact definition, a fetish is usually a manufactured object that is entered by spirits or impersonal powers after the appropriate rituals. The European concept of fetishism (belied in fetishes) dates largely from the 19th century, when the ethnology of religion regarded fetishism as the precursor of religion. Most fetishes are collections of energy-given substances, often including certain stones, horns, claws, teeth, bones, nails, keys, whistles, hair, locks, animal skin and so on, but also dirt and other similar 'unclean' but effective things.

The power of fetishes can be activated through sacrifices and are magically used for protection, causing harm, or increasing wealth or fertility. Particularly well known are the fetishes of the Aja, Ewe and the Fon in Togo and Benin (the local population refers to an inanimate object like a magic bottle as Bo, and a humanlike figure as Bochio).

A Bochio figure is always made of wood. In some cases an unadorned figure is already 'fit for use'. However, most bochio figures are truly complete when materials have been added to the wooden figure: string, pieces of cloth, calabashes, horns, animal skulls, iron objects, wooden or iron pins, and cowry shells. The 'right' combination of materials gives the figure the power to keep a certain evil at bay. The materials are attached in a well-defined ritual accompanied by chanting and libations of blood and alcohol. Only after the figure has been saturated with power in this way can it hold the energy of gods, ancestors and spirits and allow it to work.

The massive clay figures in Togo and Benin represent Legba, the cosmic messenger between the gods and humans. His passion must be tempered in order to ensure good communication between gods and human.