One of the things that Caitlin has really wanted to learn about during her service and before she leaves is voodoo. With this mission in mind, my landlord, Joseph was able to bring us to two different charlatans, to divine the future.
The first thing we learned was the distinction between Afaka and Voodoo. Afaka includes just about everything in the world, while voodoo is putting a spirit into an object. Our first visit to the Afakala (practitioner of afaka) included many different fetish items (items of power and or magic) on a mat, giving him 500 CFA to complete the ceremony and lots of Ewe which we didn't understand. Joseph would translate for us at different points, but it didn't quite have the same effect that way.
Caitlin was told that she had a bright star and that as long as she advanced slowly and with caution, that she would have great success for her and her family.
Both Joseph and the afakala were kind enough to indulge out many questions afterward. We want to learn most of all who practices afaka and why. We were told that it is a type of animism, and thus good Christians do not practice it. I asked if it exists for Muslims and was told yes, but they have their own leaders. This is a slightly misleading response which require reading through the lines a bit. Basically, both Christians and Muslims practice, each with their respective afakala, though if they want to be respected in their religious communities, they should not reveal to others that they are doing this.
I also asked what the most common request was; to see the future? to do well on a test or exam? for fertility? for wealth? quick recoveries from an illness? In a very typically Togolese response, I was told “Yes.” This often happens when a person doesn't understand the question, when they don't want or have a straight answer to give.
We also asked about the fetish items; where does he get them? What is the significance? What is this gross crazy looking thing? Well, he gets them from
his teacher (note, we also often see them for sale at the weekly market), they are not ordinary objects, but ones that have been treated with certain powers, and the gross, crazy looking thing is a buffalo horn with seemingly too much buffalo still attached.
After leaving the first guy, we headed over to a woman to see what her thoughts were on Caitlin's future. There we had a very different experience, as the woman went into the next room and called the spirit to speak to her (and us). The voice was high pitched and rather creeping sounding and it and the woman would have a conversation back and forth. Caitlin had been hoping to contact her deceased grandfather but the woman said that it was more expensive to contact someone all the way in America (about 40 USD) while finding out about her future would be cheaper (1 USD). And thus, being Peace Corps Volunteers, we went with the cheaper option. The ceremony was less interesting than the last was the woman was hidden away in the other room to contact the spirit and though we could hear her, there was nothing to watch.
I can't say that either of these visits created a deep belief in voodoo or afaka, but the tradition is strong here and not to be messed with. If you challenge someone's abilities to curse or protect you they could very well try to test it out by a snake suddenly finding its way into your house, or poison in your meal. I'm not sure whether voodoo is “real” or not, but either way, it certainly has power.