Togo voodoo market helps the sick and politicians

GMT 12:41 2015 Wednesday ,05 August

Arab Today, arab today Togo voodoo market helps the sick and politicians

Akodessewa district of Lome
Lome - AFP

Lucien Yekpon, a Lome traditional healer, sat on a stool surrounded by voodoo objects -- skulls, feathers, statuettes -- to place his hand on the head of a patient and recite incantations.

"You will soon be completely cured," Yekpon told the 35-year-old visitor, who had travelled to Togo from neighbouring Benin to seek a remedy for migraine that dogged him for three years.

"I have been treated in several medical centres in Benin (but) the pains have persisted," says Adolphe Houndji, a tailor from Benin's main business city, Cotonou.

Just three days after his arrival in Lome, Togo's capital, Houndji has started to feel the magic touch, reporting that he feels "much better."

Located in the heart of the rundown Akodessewa district, the market is famous across west Africa. All manner of ailments are treated, ranging from malaria and typhoid fever to erectile dysfunction, asthma and tuberculosis.

About 100 healers and witchcraft doctors work there and have mostly come from from Benin, the historic home of the polytheistic religion known as voodoo, which takes multiple forms and is known as vodun in west Africa.

Traditional worship and magical practices were mixed with some Christian rites during the colonial era.

- Ebola fears deter tourists -

"This market is a heritage from our grandparents. We initiate our children into it so that they take over from us," explained Paul Adounsi, 40, while he attended to a patient from Senegal seeking a cure for his sinusitis.

"Most of the clients (in early days) came from Lome," said Houndjenoukon Boccovo, a renowned healer.

"It was in 1963 that (our elders) got the idea to create this market" in Togo's capital itself, bringing their services closer to their main customers

A dozen altars adorned with totems for vodun divinities stand behind stalls displaying skulls, dried animal skins, reptile bones, feathers and statuettes.

The nauseous stench of decaying flesh oozes out in alleyways.

"All that you see on the shelves are ingredients used in the preparation of our products... For example, a properly crushed tortoise's shell, combined with certain herbs and honey can cure a chronic asthma patient," Yekpon says.

"Patients come from all over... Some whites also patronise us," he claims.

But tourists from Europe and sometimes America tend to visit the market more out of curiosity than to consult with the healers.

Their number has fallen since last year's outbreak of the Ebola virus in several west African countries, the market's main tour guide, Elias Guedena, says regretfully.

"Ebola caused many tourists to flee because most of the objects displayed are derived from animals in the bush (a major source of Ebola transmission). But over the past two months, they have been coming back gradually," he adds.  

- 'We are not witchdoctors' -

A traditional healer from Kpalime to the north of Lome, Olivier Massenon, travelled more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) for a singular purpose.

"Today, I bought three heads of a powerful bird, known as 'Aziza' to make medicine for a patient who has suffered from a feeble sex drive for eight years," he says.

"He will never be healed in a hospital because the spirits have revealed that he has been bewitched. After two weeks of treatment in my care, his penis will recover all its strength," adds Massenon, 35.

Ailments blamed on witchcraft are numerous in the Lome market because hospitals and doctors are unable to treat such cases, which are "not natural", Yekpon says.

In a separate domain, the market plays host to a different set of clients when elections are coming near, Boccovo says.

"Politicians come to ask us to prepare charms to enable them to succeed at the polls.

"During the July 2013 parliamentary elections, especially during the electioneering campaign, I even prepared rings for some candidates" to enhance their chances, he adds.

Boccovo declined to reveal whether the charms worked to maintain professional secrecy.

There are few clients for whom the healers of Akodessewa will not work, but they turn away "those who want charms to harm their neighbours," Boccovo says. "We are not witchdoctors."

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