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Togo purges its violent past with voodoo ceremonies

Bare-chested voodoo devotees kneel in front of the priests during a purification ceremony in Be, a working class district in Lome, on July 7, 2017. Roughly a hundred between traditional chiefs and voodoo priests have gathered to perform rituals on the shores of the lagoon in Be. / AFP PHOTO / YANICK FOLLY

Lome, Togo | AFP | The voodoo follower stood bare-chested with beads around his neck in the centre of the public square in Bè, a working class district of Togo’s capital, Lome.

A dozen priests surrounded him as he made incantations, threw soil and water, and gave an offering to the gods. In the silence, a ram and a cockerel were burnt alive.

“It’s over, human blood must not flow again on the land of our ancestors after the purification ceremony for the country,” the follower said.

Twenty priestesses, naked from the waist up, sang and danced before spraying the watching crowd with water “blessed” by the divinities from voodoo convents.

“A lot of ceremonies have taken place in convents. The country is now purified,” said a follower of the thunder god Hebiosso.

The government announced last week that Christian, Islamic and voodoo “purification ceremonies” would be held to purge Togo of its violent past and promote reconciliation.

The West African nation was rocked by political unrest during presidential elections in 2005, which were won by Faure Gnassingbe, who remains in power.

There is no official death toll from the clashes, but a group close to the government has said 105 were killed while the opposition put the figure at more than 800.

The United Nations believes between 400 and 500 people died.

Ceremonies were due to be held in mosques at Friday prayers and also in churches on Sunday.

– Symbolic location –

In Lome, about 100 voodoo high priests and traditional chiefs were at the rituals at the lagoon’s edge in Bè.

“They are oracles who showed us the banks of this lagoon for the ceremonies. And we all know what happened in this lagoon in the past,” said Togbui Gnagblondjro III, the head of the national confederation of voodoo priests of Togo.

On April 11, 1991, 28 bodies were pulled out of the water in Bè the day after an opposition demonstration.

The protesters had accused the military of massacring demonstrators at night and throwing their bodies into the lagoon.

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