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Does voodoo exist in Africa?

It has been said that voodoo as it is known today is a product of the fusions of religious belief patterns by slaves who came from different parts of Africa into the Americas. Pooled together by the slave trade, and faced with the terrible consequences of slavery, these Africans had to prop each other up as a means towards survival. The result was that they turned to their different religious beliefs for consolation and hope; Voodoo was the outcome. Accordingly, it is said of voodoo today, that:

Although its essential wisdom originated in different parts of Africa long before the Europeans started the slave trade, the structure of Voodoo, as we know it today, was born in Haiti during the European colonization of Hispaniola. Ironically, it was the enforced immigration of enslaved African (sic) from different ethnic groups that provided the circumstances for the development of Voodoo. ("Origins of Voodoo")

Voodoo in this light is a derivative of some of the world's oldest forms of worship that have been in existence within the continent of Africa since the beginning of human civilization, thus qualifying "Voodoo as probably the best example of African syncretism in the Americas" ("Origins of Voodoo").

Africa is famous for her masks. Is this a religious thing, or what are these masks about?

It is true that Africa is famous for her masks, the use of which is as old as the people's worldview itself. These masks, made from various materials—metal, leather, fabric, and mostly wood—can be worn in different ways. In some cultures masks worn vertically to cover the face are popular, but there are some which cover the entire head of the performer, and yet others that rest on the head only.

Masks are a part of the people's worldview in that they are used as a form of communication during special traditional events. Depending on the event, planting season rites, crop harvesting rites, rites of passage, initiation, and the preparation for war against human or spiritual enemies, these masks are used to depict the spirits of ancestors, the forces of good and evil, the dead, deities of the land, and other forces believed to be in control of the world.

The world of masks performing is complex because of the reasons that warrant a performance, the levels of meanings in a performance, and the nature of the performances involved. Also significant is the fact that the masks mostly have unique dance steps and behavioral patterns, depending on the societies to which they belong, some of which societies are secret. Accordingly, some masks belonging to secret societies can only come out to perform at night, and some have members of their audiences streamlined to members of the secret society only, while others are not to be watched by women, and in other cases pregnant women. Ironically, some of these secret society masks, which are believed to possess supernatural powers, as obvious from the speed with which they move and the feats they perform, can only be subdued when they go out of hand by a pregnant woman. Masks such as these are believed to be possessed by powerful spirits, as the performer is usually in a trance during which state only an initiate can understand whatever the mask is saying. Different masks also deliver their messages differently: some grunt, others produce sounds like whistled fricatives, and yet others only gesture to members of the society to which they belong. Through their performance, the masks succeed in charging the atmosphere with a specific mood relevant to the occasion—joy, grief, disgust, and fright are a few examples.

In fact, some masks are considered superior to others even within the same ethnic group. For example, in the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon, a mask from the traditional leader's palace is considered superior to any other mask from within that traditional leader's territory. Accordingly, when a mask is emerging from the palace to perform, only another mask from the palace can come out to display at the same time. Otherwise, the ordinary mask must withdraw and make way for the mask coming out of the palace to perform first.

It must be understood that these rituals and occasions during which masks perform, are sacred and for the welfare of the community. In this light, generally speaking, a mask functions as a medium linking the realm of the natural and that of the supernatural, hence the religious nature of most performances and of the masks as symbols of different spirits.

 
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