In Benin, Voodoo’s Birthplace, Believers Bemoan Shrinkage Of Sacred Forests

"PORTO-NOVO, Benin — For many people in Benin, the forests empowered them before they were born, or in the first months of their lives.

Barren women performed Voodoo rituals by sacred trees to get pregnant. Others were brought as newborns by parents seeking to ward off evil spirits. Some entered at a crossroads as adults, asking for guidance.

In the cradle of Voodoo, the forests were places of hope. Yet as the woodlands shrank, due to economic development and other factors, it has dealt a blow to communities struggling to protect the spirits believed to live within them.

When residents in the village of Houeyogbe agreed to let the government destroy much of its forest to build roads and install electricity, locals say the spirits unleashed a plague, with inexplicable deaths and mounting illnesses.

In Ouidah, Benin’s epicenter of Voodoo, a gas station that replaced the Aveleketezou forest years ago has not turned a profit, residents say. Station employees said that when they filled cars with gas, it turned to water.

Benin is home to thousands of sacred forests, which believers say are vital to a religion rooted in nature. They see the forests as homes for spirits, which priests pray to and seek guidance from."

Sam Mednick reports for the Associated Press October 29, 2023.

Source: AP, 10/31/2023