Benin readies for Voodoo Day

Saturday is Voodoo Day in Benin and preparations are in full swing.

Traditional cults from across the country will meet at the seaside town of Ouidah, revered as the cradle of voodoo and offer prayers and sacrifices to their gods.

The earth, wind, thunder, pythons, giant baobab trees, vampire bats and just about anything that the human mind cannot easily fathom earns the status of divinity.

Priests and priestesses draped in colourful attire command the respect of hundreds of Voodoo followers who kneel down or roll over the floor as a sign of respect.

Horse riders from semi-arid northern Benin proudly display their riding skills, instantly turning the Ouidah beach into a race track.

National holiday

Voodoo followers from as far afield as Haiti, Brazil, the Caribbean and the United States also join in the celebrations.

And when getting close to dehydration point because of the suffocating heat, they gulp down their soft drinks directly imported from the West.

Late in the afternoon, the libations continue in the private residence of the main Voodoo leader, Daagbo Hounon Hounan, who generously offers a lavish meal to his famous guests from the black diaspora.

Roasted pork chops, fried beef, smoked chicken and goat meat stew beckon the hungry guests, who find relief - at long last - after a hectic day.

Voodoo Day was declared a national holiday in Benin more than a decade ago, under the administration of former President Nicephore Soglo.

Mr Soglo is said to have been saved from death thanks to Voodoo powers. So in gratitude to the Voodoo community of the country, he gave them official recognition.

President Kerekou has a voodoo background

But shortly after he was elbowed out of power in 1996, the new President, Mathieu Kerekou, attempted to ban it, saying Benin was a secular state.

The matter was brought before parliament and Mr Kerekou's challenge was thrown out.

The MPs' move made the Voodoo community stronger and Mr Kerekou withdrew from the Voodoo business.

This was quite strange given that Mr Kerekou was himself born to a Voodoo priestess, Yokosi, who is said to have given him "native" insurance against spiritual enemy attacks.

The chameleon

In the Somba community of north-western Benin, kids are protected from attack by evil forces from birth.

Millions of Beninois practice voodoo

Anyone trying to kill them by using dark powers may actually sign their own death warrant. And Mr Kerekou, a Somba, was no exception.

Back in the mid-seventies, there were many invisible attacks on Mr Kerekou's life with the purpose of robbing him of his soul, an art that is locally referred to as zombification.

But as Mr Kerekou himself once said in public, "my enemies are wasting their time. They can't take my voice away or silence me. The branch will never break in the hands of the chameleon."

The chameleon is Mr Kerekou's nickname, embodying his power.

It seems that the man has never stopped believing in mystical forces, although he calls himself a born-again Christian.