Cultural Anthropology

Where did Voodoo originate?
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  1. Voodoo originally comes from Africa, specifically the kingdoms of Fon and Kongo on the continent's western coast. The Fon kingdom was based in the region that is now southern Benin and is known to many anthropologists as the "cradle of Voodoo." The religion centers on spirit worship and most likely evolved from worship of ancestors and animals.

    The religion most commonly called Voodoo also is called the Vodun religion. The term "voodoo" means "sacred," "deity," or "spirit" in the Fon language. The religion may go back as many as 6,000 years in parts of Africa, but its practice was denied during colonial rule. The ban on the religion forced many to practice it in hiding, which may have led to some legends of its dark and mystic qualities. When a democratic government came to Benin in the 1980s, Voodoo was openly practiced again -- by as many as 60 percent of the region's population [source: Religious Tolerance].

    The western coastal areas of Africa where Voodoo began were trafficked heavily during the slave-trade period, which helped transmit the religion to the Americas, and especially Haiti. Slaves who were sent to the Western world brought their religion along with them, blending their beliefs from specific African regions together. They also blended Voodoo practices and beliefs with those of Native American traditions and the Catholics who dominated Haiti [source: National Geographic]. For all of the attention that Haiti may receive for its Voodoo, the religion is not the country's official one.

    Much of Voodoo's "black magic" image in the West may be attributed to an 1884 book called "Haiti or the Black Republic" by S. St. John, which described the religion as black and evil, but was largely inaccurate. Beginning in the 1950s, anthropologists began studying Voodoo in earnest. Still, Catholicism remains the official religion of Haiti [source: Traveling Haiti]. Voodoo lacks the formal structure of Catholicism and practitioners have more autonomy, but it is a religion with a deep history nonetheless.

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