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Traditions and Modernity

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 21:40 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

The town Ouidah for voodoo adepts must be like Jerusalem for the followers of Abrahamic religions. Voodoo as an African religion has many meanings in translation - from "spirit" to a "mystery". I don't know whether the word "voodoo" has anything in common with the Islamic word "wudu", which is used for "an ablution" or ritual purification, but they sound nearly the same. And I haven't been to Jerusalem, but my experience of holy cities like Bukhara says that followers of many different religions can find the site of pilgrimage under the same roof. The same is true of Ouidah - an old and characteristic town with a touch of quietness and with the presence of many religions. Here's the magnificent cathedral, here's the impressive mosque, here's the Temple of pythons, here's the Temple of Voodoo.

I've never seen a live ritual of Voodoo, but similarities, let say with some types of Shamanism, or even with an Islamic loud Zikr - or a Sufi exaltation, are striking.

But like with many so called "authentic" phenomena all over the world, tourism turns it into an exotic attraction with a touch of commerce. And like in Samarkand, where for an extra 10-20 dollars at the Mausoleum of Amir Temur the guardians would show you the "real" tomb of the conqueror (which is a layer deeper than the official one), so some of the performers of the Voodoo ceremony were negotiating with us to provide a "real" special show. For an extra payment...

Venice of Africa

The fishing village of Ganvier situated on the Nokoue lake is like the Venice of Africa. Imagine 80 thousand people living literally in the lake. Houses are built on the water; small courtyards, made mostly for children, are artificially made.

The legend says that people of Benin escaping slavery came to the lake with their Voodoo master. With the help of his magic he turned into a bird and flew to see the lake. When he saw small islands far from the shore he built several nests and then turned himself into a crocodile, so his people could walk along his long body to those nests. So was the beginning of that African Venice.

People still live their traditional lives of fishermen and fisherwomen with traditional customs. For instance according to one of them when a young man marries a girl, as a dowry he should present her with a canoe. But it's a Trojan gift, because while the bride owns the boat, she must also row it, whereas the men are just fishing. But even this traditional life is touched by the same corrosion: as soon as our boat approached any house, kids jumped into water shouting 'Yevo, yevo! Bic, bic' - which means 'White man, white man, give some change!'

Seeing it some of us suggested opening a water polo club here, so skilful are the children in swimming and making all kind of signs at the same time, However football is the big sport, even here on the lake. When we asked one of the Voodoo priests to predict who is going to win the World Cup, he announced that it'll be an African team, but provided that the Sacrifice is given.

Who knows, maybe Drogba is that Big Sacrifice?

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