My tour guide introduced himself as Mark Dako, a descendant of King Dakodonou Danzo from the kingdom of Dahomey. Upon arrival, I elbow-bumped him while exchanging pleasantries. When this was happening, his unique chain attracted my attention.
I was visiting Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé, the capital of Togo. Popularly known as Voodoo Market, this facility is quite intriguing. It encompasses vendor stalls and dark chambers occupied by Voodoo priests.
While strolling around, I saw someone buying a skull of a hyena. Next to him was another customer checking out tails of animals I could barely recognize. A minute later, I spotted something that looked familiar. As I took a closer look at the item, I was informed that it was a spinal cord of a very poisonous snake. Where had I seen it before? Around my tour guide’s neck.
Tourists, myself included, were struggling to wrap their heads around the nature of the market. For traders, it was business as usual. Their esteemed customers seemed to be familiar with the procedure: Consult the next available Voodoo priest and buy whatever he prescribes. The prescriptions in question are ingredients used to form remedies believed to cure diseases. Some potions are produced for immunization or protection purposes.
Dead animals are procured from suppliers scattered all over the region and beyond. The conservationist in me was worried about the trade’s devastating effects on wildlife. When I raised my concerns, Mark claimed they only buy animals which succumb to natural deaths. Then he changed the subject without answering my follow-up question.
A statue of Baba Gbeazonsi, the chief priest who founded the market, is erected in the premises. Behind it stand the sculptures of several gods. When my multilingual guide explained each god’s role, I digested the information with an open mind.
"There is more to this place than meets the eye. It is a place of spiritual significance to mankind. Voodoo is color-blind and universal." Mark told me. He preaches Voodoo doctrines with the same enthusiasm your pastor unleashes every Sunday.
About one-third of the Togolese subscribe to ancestral forms of beliefs associated with Voodoo. When I visited Togoville, on the northern shore of Lake Togo, I spent some time in a Voodoo shrine and witnessed rituals performed by fishermen before casting their nets. My observation in a Voodoo shrine is a story for another day.