Roman Catholic priest Michel Badagbor can only wonder just how many of his parishoners visit the fetish market, where remedies to block evil spells and "juju" can be bought to ensure prosperity.Notice the casualness in the priest's approving description of how members of his flock "inform" on each other to him about their visits to religiously proscribed areas. And while there is no hint of violence, still it comes from an official representative of the people who brought us the Spanish Inquisition. And maybe it's just because I've lately been watching the first season of the Sopranos on DVD, but the statement "We try to resolve these problems" really does seem to have a sinister ring to it.
“We don’t know who goes there and comes here,” he said outside St. Maria Goretti church. “When someone informs me, we call that person. We try to resolve these problems.”
Anyway, Maguire's report on "Togo's Voodoo Fetish Markets" is yet another story coming out of Africa in the wake of the new Pew study on religion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Interestingly, Togo, where a whopping 51% (although some estimates go as high as 70%) of the population follow Traditional African Religions, is not one of the 19 countries included in the Pew survey. Nor is next-door Benin, where Vodou is so prominent that, unlike other Traditional religions in Africa it is often listed separately and by name in demographic data (in nearly all cases only generic terms such as "traditional religion" or "indigenous religion" are used).
Ghana and Nigeria (two countries that Pew did survey) along with Benin and Togo together include the main areas populated by speakers of the Gbe languages (including Ewe and Fon), and also the Yoruba languages. These groups along the coast of this corner of West Africa comprise what is arguably the most important center of Traditional African Religion, and what is without a doubt one of the most impressive and inspiring oases of determined resistance to the spiritual desertification, in the name of the spread of the Christian Gospel, that has eradicated so much of Africa's (and humanity's!) spiritual heritage. There could be as many as 30 million, or even more, adherents of Traditional African Religion in just these four countries.
But let's go back to Maguire's article, to hear more of what the kindly Father Badagbor and some other West Africans have to say:
Maguire also has some quotes directly from two Pew researchers who are eager to explain away and minimize the dogged survival of Traditional religions well into the 21st century.
Badagbor, the Catholic priest, says a true Christian can’t practice both religions. Muslim scholars say the same.
“Christians in particular who do are hypocrites. There is only one God to love. Christians must be models for others,” he said.
Didier Domeko is among the few Africans who identifies with neither Christianity nor Islam. He says he believes in several idols, or gods.
“Every morning I pray [to them] that my family will be in good health,” he said during an interview in French. “They are all very helpful. They’re used for healing people.”
Domeko works alongside hundreds of retailers at an open-air merchandise market featuring used clothing, shoes and household goods. His booth contains various types of herbs, wood, seeds, perfumes and candles for religious ceremonies.
Adjacent is a seller who is Christian. He taped a cardboard sign above his booth. The hand-written message, translated from French, asks its readers: “If you die today, are you going to heaven or hell? Jesus loves you, come to him.”
Alan Cooperman, an associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, told Maguire, “The big point here is very sizable percentages who are Muslims or Christians, and in fact very religious Muslims or Christians, also are retaining and participating in African traditional beliefs and practices."
Cooperman (who worked as a prize-winning journalist for 27 years before coming to Pew) chooses his words very carefully. He insists that tens of millions of Africans who believe in reincarnation, worship traditional African Deities, participate in ancient pre-Christian ceremonies, have collections of traditional sacred objects and possibly even dedicated traditional shrines in their homes, etc. -- are still to be classified as Christian and only as Christian. Their religion is Christianity even though they "retain and participate in African traditional beliefs and practices." This obsession with laying claim to the "exclusive rights", as it were, to people's souls is an example of the missionary mentality described so well by Rev. Dr. Timothy M. Njoya (here) who likened it to the greedy harvesting of rhino horns and elephant tusks by poachers.
Maguire also quotes Luis Lugo, Director of the Pew Forum, who removes any doubts about the Borg-like mindset at work here: "African traditional beliefs and practices live on but they’re living on primarily by being incorporated by Christians and Muslims into their daily lives. How they square that with their primary allegiance to Christianity or Islam is a separate question."
Other posts on Traditional African Religions:
"Africa became Christian by Submission not by Conversion"
You might be Pagan if .... (Part Deux)
You might be a Pagan if ....
Every picture tells a story
Traditional African Religions Continue To Thrive
More On Traditional African Religions
Fela Kuti and Traditional African Religion
Secret Knowledge, Sacred Knowledge (on Candomble)