Andrea Calandra

Voodoo, a parallel reflection

A narrative of a personal encounter with Voodoo in Togo, West Africa.
© DooG Reporter

This post is also available in: Italiano

Atakpamé, Togo

Africa is about roots.
Approaching the spiritual reality of a people is very difficult because it is like asking to be able to look inside something intimate, reserved for those who, that creed, live and feel it every day. Animism is a Western term coined to give a sort of container to a whole series of spiritual realities, rituals, traditions and, above all, multifaceted ways of living. This takes place in the gestures and habits that have drunk the fact of everyday life with an immaterial veil that seems to permeate everything.

Africa is different.
In Togo, where this narrative is set, it is not – as one might think at first glance – the extreme poverty and backwardness of the welfare state that causes certain beliefs to persist that are still so firmly rooted today. Despite the strong influence of European colonialism – first German and then French – that led Christianity to spread throughout the country, and, further north, the increasing spread of Islam, traditional beliefs retain the most significant number of followers among the population, where 51% of Togolese find spiritual completeness in ancient African religious realities.

voodoo africa

African magical realism

My approach to such a complex and multifaceted reality has not been that of a scholar but a genuinely curious person.
On my two trips to Togo, I got to know Vodu, literally. sign of the deep – or Voodoo, a better-known term of Anglo-Saxon derivation -, I was surprised not to find magic concealed behind hidden ritual secrets, as one might imagine when thinking of Voodoo, often linked to black magic. If one knows how to observe well, to let oneself be transported and involved, this magic pervades every simple gesture of everyday life, whether conscious or unconscious. I started calling it African magic realism as I could not help but think of those strange atmospheres, capable of producing a mystical shift, so dear to Gabriel García Marquez, where the verism of every day suddenly and abruptly mixes with the paranormal, the supernatural.

Moments of mystical displacement, fascinating enchanted (or bewitched) conjunctures, they kept repeating themselves, involving me more and more and at the same time increasing my deep respect – and awe – for this ancestral spiritual world.
As when ascending the forest to reach a waterfall sacred to Ayda-Weddoloa of fertility and freshwater – a boy of about ten years of age walked alongside us without a word, and, as soon as he reached the water spring at the base of the waterfall, he positioned himself in the middle of it where prompted by a reason obscure to me, he assumed an ascetic position. Just enough time to take a couple of shots, he was gone, back down the forest, without uttering a word. It was one of the most exciting moments of my African journey.

voodoo africa

And again, when wandering alone through the narrow streets of little Atakpamé during a festivity in honour of the yam, trendy food in Togo, also with symbolic solid content linked to the fact that the tuber’s maturation period under the ground is nine months, as in human gestation, I looked out into an alley and saw this spirit-mask engaged in a solitary dance to the rhythm of drums resounding in the distance, perhaps on the other side of town, with no audience but me. And as I found him, he continued to dance even when I moved away. I have often found myself in situations like this, and each time, I have experienced this feeling of mystical displacement.

This is how Africa enters you, sometimes slowly penetrating your skin, other times with a punch to the stomach.
Places and people create a unique combination, like roots that cling to the soul, abducting and changing it forever.

voodoo africa
Text & Photos: Andrea Calandra 
Photo Editor: Gabriele Orlini 
Original text in Italian - In house translation
DooG's Contributor
Andrea Calandra

© Portfolio - Voodoo, a parallel reflection

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