By Virgile Ahissou Associated Press Writer

Thousands gathered on a beach Tuesday to celebrate Benin’s once-banned Voodoo, slaughtering animals and welcoming revelers from Brazil and the United States, including descendants of slaves who took the religion to the Americas centuries ago.

At a ceremony in the southern town of Ouidah, Voodoo high priestess Nagbo Hounon Gbeffa sacrificed a goat, a rooster and a chicken as divine offerings.

“I’m very moved,” said Faith McDouglas, a 37-year-old nurse from Omaha, Neb. “I’ve understood many things regarding my origins, because I’m a descendant of slaves.”

Voodoo originated in West Africa and holds that all life is driven by spiritual forces of natural phenomena like water, fire, earth and air that should be honored through rituals that include animal sacrifices. Followers believe they can communicate with divinities and spirits by putting themselves into a trance.

Countless Africans were shipped into slavery from the West African coast, taking Voodoo with them, and cults still exist in the Caribbean, Latin American and the southern United States.

The annual celebration “is an occasion for us in Ouidah to remember the hundreds of thousands of blacks deported to the Americas as slaves,” said Albert Dossou, a member of the Daagbo Hounon family, which traces its lineage to a 15th-century Voodoo chief.

“It is always a pleasure for us to see them make the pilgrimage to the land of their ancestors.”

Pamella Jonqueira, a Brazilian living in Portugal, said she came to Ouidah, 25 miles west of the commercial capital, Cotonou, to make a documentary about Voodoo.

“I’ve been able to glean some really beautiful images, but most importantly, I feel the need to initiate myself in Voodoo,” she said.

The religion was repressed in Benin, then banned during incumbent President Mathieu Kerekou’s first 18-year stint in power, which ended in 1991. Kerekou’s Marxist regime believed the rites went against the socialist work ethic.

But the religion, practiced by an estimated 60 percent of Benin’s 7 million people, was impossible to suppress and the government inaugurated National Voodoo Day in 1996, giving the religi on an official place here alongside Christianity and Islam.

Benin is considered the West African capital of Voodoo, and every year, hundreds of revelers, believers and curious tourists from as far away as Haiti and the United States attend the festival with thousands from Benin.

After Tuesday’s animal sacrifice, Gbeffa, the Voodoo priestess, prayed for the March 5 presidential elections to be peaceful, saying they should be held “in an atmosphere of tolerance and brotherhood.”

Kerekou lost the country’s first democratic elections in 1991 but won office again in 1996 and 2001. The constitution bars him from seeking another term.

Benin is not alone in Africa in having a history of suppressing local religions. In Zimbabwe on Monday, a senior High Court judge urged the government to ease colonial era restrictions on the practice of witchcraft, state-run radio reported.

Many Zimbabweans retain strong beliefs in the healing power of spirit mediums – known as n’angas, or witch doctors – along with the role of ancestral rites in the nation’s cultural life, Judge Maphios Cheda said.

Zimbabwe’s century-old Witchcraft Suppression Act has not been strictly enforced since independence from Britain in 1980, but Cheda said it has forced some rites to be performed in secret.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

© 2010 Web design and development by Tami Jo Urban Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha