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Benin Reclaims Voodoo As A Religion President’s Move Seen As Political Ploy

Thu., Jan. 11, 1996

With pounding drums and pulsating rhythms, Benin on Wednesday celebrated the rebirth of voodoo as an officially recognized religion.

About 60 percent of this West African nation’s people follow voodoo, which originated in the region, but the Marxist regime that came to power in 1972 discouraged its practice.

President Nicephoro Soglo’s government said Tuesday that, in an effort to “correct an injustice,” it was formally recognizing voodoo as a religion.

It declared Jan. 10 a national, paid holiday to celebrate voodoo and the country’s other traditional faiths, saying they deserved the same recognition as Christian and Muslim events.

The move was seen as a political ploy by Soglo to win support in advance of presidential elections March 3. It will be Soglo’s second election since becoming Benin’s first democratically chosen president in 1991.

In parliamentary elections last April, opposition parties won most of the seats, indicating voter dissatisfaction with Soglo’s leadership.

Sossa Guedehoungue, president of the national voodoo bureau, led prayers and the offering of gifts to the spirits during a ceremony in Cotonou’s stadium.

Voodoo has its origins in West Africa, and followers worship spirits, or fetishes, to guide them in their lives. The religion started about 400 years ago and was brought to the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, during the slave trade.


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