More than 100 graves robbed in Africa as Voodoo gains pace

Tomb raiders have dug up more than 100 graves in the African state of Benin last Saturday for what authorities suspect is a growing regional black-market trade in human organs and skulls for voodoo rituals. The incident is the most serious case of grave-robbing in the West African state, the world capital of voodoo where most of the country’s 9 million residents practice as official religion. The Caribbean state of Haiti is another country where voodoo has been declared official religion.

Families devastated by grave-robbing

Authorities in Dangbo, a village 10 km (6 miles) from the capital Porto-Novo, began an investigation after a mason working at the cemetery said he spotted several masked men digging up the graves, from which organs and skulls were removed. “The desecration of graves is about money in this region,” said Joseph Afaton, director of the cemetery. “It is for sacrifices, or for bewitching.”

Body parts of humans and rare animals are prized by some in Africa for their supposed supernatural powers, and are used in occult ceremonies. Traffickers often obtain human remains from grave robbers, but a recent spate of killings has also been linked to the gruesome trade. Authorities in Cameroon, another African state, in September arrested five people suspected of trafficking human body parts after they were discovered at a checkpoint carrying a severed human head.

Relatives have been traumatized by the mutilations as most people believe in reincarnation. They fear their loved ones will be reincarnated with body parts missing. A voodoo high priest told the BBC such practices were not recognized by the mainstream Voodoo religion, and condemned the grave desecration.

For Benin, 27.1% of the population of Benin is Roman Catholic, while 24.4% Muslim. It is however, a common occurrence for members of the same family to practice Christianity, Islam, voodoo and traditional local religious beliefs in combination. An estimated nearly half of the country’s population adhere to voodoo practices. In Haiti, where about 85% of the population claim Christian beliefs, a similar 50% subscribe to voodoo beliefs.

While voodoo is widely regarded as a mysterious and sinister practice that’s taboo in many cultures, for these countries, it is a legitimate religion, says anthropologist Wade Davis, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who has studied voodoo extensively in Haiti. The exact origins of voodoo are unknown, but it’s generally agreed that its roots lie in West Africa. Benin is considered the cradle of voodoo, which means “spirit” in the local language.

Voodoo beliefs spread from Africa’s shores to America on slave ships. Subjected to forced labor and expected to adopt a foreign Christian religion in their new land, enslaved Africans turned to the familiar spirits of their ancestors to help them survive a painful transition. In Haiti, slaves from different parts of Africa fused their different beliefs into a new spirit religion. This flexibility persists in voodoo today.
Voodoo now official religion for 2 countries

Like other religions, voodoo is a guiding force in communities where it is practiced. Voodoo priests are prominent and respected figures. Because of their strong connections with the spirits, they are expected to perform many social functions. Spirits are called on to heal the sick, help the needy, and provide practical solutions to life’s problems. As dead bodies are involved, voodoo is linked to the fascination with zombies.

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