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Christian and Muslim Africans alike go to traditional markets for juju magic and potions.
LOME, Togo — 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.
“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.”
Christianity and Islam have expanded so rapidly in the past century throughout Africa that many thought traditional local religions like voodoo would disappear.
But a new report finds that millions of Africans in the sub-Saharan region also practice religions of their ancestors, believing in witches, evil spirits and sacrifices.
“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,” said Alan Cooperman, an associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The Washington, D.C.,-based organization interviewed 25,000 Africans in a 19-country survey that shows one in five believe in black magic — that some people can cast spells. The same percentage of Africans possess juju, a blessed object that holds protective power.
Islam and Christianity were followed by small minorities in 1900, but today the two religions dominate the sub-region. There are 470 million Christians, which is about double the number of Muslims. Including heavily Muslim northern Africa, both religions have between 400 million and 500 million followers on the continent.
Cures for everything from asthma to impotence are available at the fetish market in Lome, the capital of this small West African country.
“Here be like a pharmacy for everybody in the world,” said Joseph Abo, a market guide.
And business is good.
“Many Africans come here. Muslim people use it, Christian people use it, any kind of religion can use this, white magic,” he said.
About three-fourths of Senegalese — nearly all of whom are Muslim — say they use traditional religious healers when a family member is sick, the survey found. Four in 10 Christians in Ghana do the same.