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Togo's voodoo fetish markets do brisk trade

Christian and Muslim Africans alike go to traditional markets for juju magic and potions.

Togo and neighboring Benin, considered the birthplace of voodoo, were not included in the Pew Center survey. U.S. State Department figures say one-third of Benin’s 8 million people identify as animists, who believe spirits exist in trees, rocks and animals, as well as humans. The fetish market is largely operated by men from Benin.

A guided tour in English costs a few dollars and Abo provides a decent overview. Here, they don’t practice black magic, in which spells are cast on other people. White magic is good, he said. It’s for good health and prosperity.

The pre-negotiation price for the asthma remedy is $150. He explained that it requires 16 porcupine quills, 16 boa snake spines, seven tortoise shells and 41 herbs — all of which must be blessed by a fetish priest. They are ground together and put over a fire. The result will be a black powder, which then is mixed with a half-bottle of honey.

“Take small glass [for] about three days,” he said. “When half-bottle of honey is finished you can never have asthma in your life, never.”

Abo ignores the absence of medical proof. He insists they are successful.

“We are not forcing you to come here. If you believe, you come here, if you don’t believe, you stay away,” he said.

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.”

Voodoo’s influence is not limited to West Africa. The slave trade exported voodoo across the Atlantic.

A separate Pew Forum study last year found that 32 percent of black Protestants in the United States believe in the “evil eye” — the black magic belief of casting spells.

The slave trade brought voodoo to Haiti, where it’s still popular. There continue to be heated debates about voodoo, which is seen by some Christians as demon worship.

American televangelist Pat Robertson, for example, claimed the recent Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people was God’s revenge for a pact Haitian slaves allegedly made with the devil when they revolted against the French in 1791.

“African traditional beliefs and practices live on but they’re living on primarily by being incorporated by Christians and Muslims into their daily lives,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. “How they square that with their primary allegiance to Christianity or Islam is a separate question.”