I previously wrote about how pet owners in Benin protect their animals from being taken and used in Vodoun (aka Voodoo aka the local animist religion) ceremonies: they cut off a tip of the ear or tail, so that the animal is no longer “perfect” and therefore of no ceremonial value. Below are some photos of my host family’s newest cat, Minou.
Once again, it’s Oro season. That time of year when I have to leave my village or stay inside while a cult of machete-wielding men run around with impunity. It’s both cooler and way, way less cool than it sounds.
Unfortunately, this year it comes right in the middle of my very last week in village, which means one less day for me to say my goodbyes.
But such is life in West Africa: nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, goes according to plan.
In honor of the time when Vodun (Voodoo) is most visible in my community, I thought I’d share how we in Daagbé protect our furry friends from voodoo. First of all, most people don’t have dogs. Pets aren’t friends – they are food, or they eat pests. There’s no sense in sentimentalizing animals that you’re going to eat, or for whom there is a high percentage that they’ll die or disappear. That being said, cats are a relatively common household animal, since they eat mice and rats.
But cats (among many other animals) are used sometimes in gris-gris.
This is the form of voodoo that Americans might call “black magic” – it’s sorcery, used to hurt someone. Most voodoo priests will tell you that this goes against their religion, which is mostly true. But people use it against those suspected of theft or other bad behaviors.
I’m not sure how common it is to gris-gris someone, since most Beninese do not like to talk about it with anyone, let alone a nosy foreigner who wouldn’t understand anyway. I have been able to confirm that some people use cats in some sort of sacrifice. I also know that people eat cats sometimes, though I’ve never been able to confirm if the two are related. My guess is not.
In any case, there is a way for a conscientious cat owner to protect their feline from being stolen for use in ceremonies: cut off part of its ear, or the tip of its tail. Apparently, a cat with a large visible scar like that cannot be used in voodoo ceremonies.
So if you own a cat and you live in my little corner of West Africa, be kind. Cut off part of your cat’s ear.