My first encounter with Voodoo

A dance by the lake

It was now time to dig into the Voodoo religion and try to understand a tiny bit (at least) of this ancient complex cosmology. I had read online after doing an incredible amount of research that in the villages around lake Ahemé, people used to do Vodoo ceremonies. Off to Lake Ahemé it was then!

I didn’t know what to expect as there was almost no info about the villages and even Google Maps didn’t show much. What it did show, was a couple of hotels, and here’s where I got lucky. I took the usual Zem ride to the hotel from where the shared car stopped and realized that I was going into what seemed to be just the bush, away from the main village. I could only see greenery around me and the lake on my right. I immediately thought: “Gosh, I’m in the middle of nowhere, how am I supposed to find a Voodoo ceremony here?”.The Zem kept on riding more and more inside the bush until we reached the hotel I had booked. It was a new building, surrounded by trees…. And nothing else! But it was beautiful and the staff was very kind. After exchanging a few words with one of the staff, I immediately said that I really wanted to see a ceremony and asked if there was something going on around the lake in some village…. It was around 5 pm and I had read or heard that the ceremonies usually happened at dawn. So it really was now or never.

The young man, who was himself a practitioner of this religion, told me that that day there was nothing, and I resigned to the fact that Voodoo wouldn’t show itself to me this time. I told myself that I would just enjoy the place, relax and take a stroll around the lake at sunset.

Suddenly, the guy from the hotel came with a shot glass and a bottle of a homemade spirit called Zudabi. He warned me: “Just drink a little bit! It is very strong…” I actually felt it straight away, it made me feel relaxed and happy. We had a couple of shots and then he left. After a few minutes, he showed up and told me that he had heard there was a ceremony going on and that we had to leave straight away, as it had already begun.

He drove me on his motorbike to the lake and there it was: there were topless women of all ages, wearing only some kind of straw skirts, with their faces and breasts covered with a white powder, dancing to the beats of the drums. The whole village was there watching. I saw a guy fall on the floor and start shaking, as in a trance, and they rapidly took him away… a woman came and shook the hands of every one of us watching the dance, her gaze was distant. Then she continued dancing. A man was serving shots of Zudabi to each one watching the ceremony, I took another one and just marveled at the show in front of my eyes. I was the only white person there and couldn’t possibly be unnoticed, but I would have liked to. I asked for permission to film but was told that the people dancing were in trance and that I could not film them. Then I asked if I could film the drummers, and the people watching the ceremony, I got a nod…

I later learned that they decided to have the ceremony to scare away the bad energies that had been felt in that place that day so that they would leave the village. After the dance was finished, the initiated went into a room to make some offerings to the gods. It got dark and we had to go back to the hotel.