Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dancing with the Demons

One of Erin's blog postings on voodoo in Benin reminded me that I should inform you guys of a certain event I attended last week.

It's called the Ndop. And it is meant to heal people who have gone crazy. It's a four-day thing, kind of like Indian weddings. And it consits of several steps - mostly though, it's about getting the bad spirits out of you.

The whole neighbourhood gathers, and the person in question, and her entourage, dance around in a circle while the men beat the drums. Every once in a while, the demons take over someone's spirit and they start acting crazy. Pouring water on themselves, rolling around in the mud, falling over unexpectedly, demanding random objects - milk, cigarettes (these are 60-year-old women we're talking about), and even ripping off their shirts. (Almost as if the demon in the crazy person is spreading to the others at the ceremony). Sometimes, they get onto their knees and just beat their chests to the sound of the drums - as if trying to beat the spirit out. [In fact, if you see the "crazy person" after the ceremony, she seems quite normal. And I think they're definition of "crazy" is quite broad).

On day #2, they kill a cow and pour its blood on the crazy person. I saw these women pouring bottles of milk on themselves and then throwing the bottle away as if they were drunk. You'd think it would be a very serious affair, but all the kids laugh. Even the marabout (religious leader) who is there to guide the ceremony and heal the woman laughs and smiles from time to time.

It's a certain ethnicity that performs these ceremonies, which end in a big celebration with food, etc. But most Senegalese are scared of them.

When I told the women at work that I had gone to a Ndop, they said "oh"... and their eyes opened wide. I told them it seemed almost like theatre, because once the night was over, the women all went back to normal. And they laughed (as if to say you foolish little girl) and then got very serious. "It's not theatre."

When I told them I was a bit tired that day, they said it was because of the Ndop. You see, the spirits can affects some of the people in the crowd as well, and apparently they're attracted to "toubabs" - white people.

In fact, one of the other girls who had gone with me - Courtney - was also feeling sick the next day (although I think that was due to an unrelated hangover). And the mom at my house said we really shouldn't go back to the Ndop, for our own health.


It's amazing what people can believe in. But as Erin says so eloquently, "Voodoo, animism, paganism, whatever -- THESE are mankind's original religions, existing thousands and thousands of years before Judaism or Islam were even specks on the horizon. No matter how many times they cross themselves in church, kneel down to pray until their knees bleed, or fast until they die during Ramadan, the Beninese person accepts his voodoo ancestry as a matter-of-fact reality of life and will slash a scar on his every child's face to protect them from it."

There's no scar-slashing going on here, but there are certainly strong beliefs that continue to exist despite Senegal's rapid modernization. And if you ask me, that's a good thing. Everyone needs something to believe in.

Sorry, no pics! That was, understandly, forbidden.


Ryan said...

awesome. I've been really interested in voodoo lately. This post seems eerily timed.

*ghost fingers*


Erin/Kristina said...

Heebs! I'm so glad you got to see a ceremony like that -- honestly, it's been the most fasinating thing here to learn how deeply everyone here just accepts voodoo as being real. i met 2 of my friend olivier's cousins the other day whose sister was, according to them, killed four months agoby one of their aunts, who is a sorcerer. I asked Olivier if he believed that that's what had happened and he just looked at me blankly like theyall do and said, "Mais, c'est ├ža."

Hadeel said...

when you arriving in cairo? make sure to let me know.