Sunday, 03 April 2016 11:28

The day I met the West African Voodoo Man

As you may know, I’ve done my share of travelling and also lived in sub-Saharan West Africa, in Burkina Faso for several years during the late 90s. I started off as a volunteer for human rights (which turned out to be all politics) and then became the company English teacher for an NGO. I taught their staff as they needed to send reports to foster parents all over the world.

They had several offices around the country, and during one period I worked in Gaoua, a market town in the lush green south. Bordering Ghana and the Ivory Coast the region is known for its strong superstitious values and customs.

Traditional funerals

For example, they are famous for their day long funeral celebrations for which they hire professional criers who will then sit there and cry and wallow all day.

For the festivities they put the diseased person in a regular wicker chair, wearing regular clothes and sunglasses so that people can bid their last farewells. Which, if you aren’t told beforehand, which was my case, may lead you to the innocent question ‘So who’s he then?’ The answer obviously almost had me fall over and I politely declined the offer to shake his hand.  

But I loved all these to us ‘strange seeming’ things and was forever asking my students to take me along on their motorcycles on their field trips which they always gladly did. I learned so much about the country this way, and I was young and curious, made many close, local friends and was always up for an adventure.

All things mystical

I was especially  intrigued by all things ‘mystical’ and so I asked a woman at the office, who spoke  good French, to come with me as my translator to see a ‘fortune teller’ - a voodoo man as I call him.

So we went on my two seated work motorcycle - out, out, out into the bush until even the tiny path we’d been on ended. It ended at an old woman’s hut who kindly offered to show us the way as it was ‘not far at all’.

I still remember her scrawny body bending over in laughter when she saw me locking my motorcycle outside her hut. She was in hysterics “Who does she think will come out here and take it?” she asked my translator.

Off through the millet fields

Anyway, off we went - the two walking in the typical, energetic stride of African women, laughing and talking in their language as they weaved between high stalks of millet. Me behind, trying to keep up, having visions of being lost in an African millet field out in nowhere.

Anyhow, we made it to our destination - a typical group of mud huts with straw roofs. We’d been walking for over an hour - ‘around the corner’ in African village terms.

It was busy as our man offered his services for voluntary donations only. Outside one hut there were two large tree trunks facing each other, like benches in a doctor’s office, filled with men and women of all ages. The appearance of a white woman drew surprisingly little attention and people just kept on talking.

The discussions you may hear

I still remember: at one point all the women who had been chatting with their heads together almost fell off their tree trunk, screaming with laughter, hitting their thighs, wiping tears with a corner of their wrap skirts. “Hm, that must be one funny story they are sharing,” I thought to myself “…probably some household or farming mishap.”

When the commotion just would not calm down I asked my translator “So what are they talking about?” And she explained that they were discussing…  let me call it… the unpredictability of the male organ.  Since this was in the ‘doctor’s waiting room’ I obviously did wonder what for they might have come to see him.

I for my part had come, just to experience what consulting a voodoo man was like… and I was to find out!

Meeting the doctor

We were asked into one of the low, dark huts and sat down on the straw mat in front of an old man. It smelled very unusual to say the least. As my eyes got used to the dark I was able to make out that our man was sitting in front of a clay pot, stirring in it with a small wooden stick.

And I could see traces of a killed chicken near it, feathers all around. What was causing the unusual smell was the chicken blood in the pot. For a moment I considered passing out, but then told myself ‘Don’t be silly, you’d miss it all!’

It’s all there - past-present-future 

So I pulled myself together and listened. And while stirring in his pot, nodding gently, the voodoo man saw my past, my present and supposedly also my future. And let me tell you, as for my past and present he was spot on which was quite amazing given that he had surely never seen or heard of me.

And so to protect me from any evil forces, our man made a special amulet for me. He tore a little piece of paper out of a children’s notebook and with a junk of charcoal wrote something on there.

Then with amazingly nimble fingers, he rolled up the paper, added a few tiny shells, wrapped it all in a little piece of leather and stitched it up, even putting a little loop so I could attach it.

And to this day - almost 20 years later, I still have my little African amulet from the West African voodoo man. In fact, it’s in my bag now, protecting me from evil forces.  



Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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