Voodoo has a special place in the life of the people of Togo. The nature-based belief system emerged at the end of the 16th century in the town of Tado on the Mono river, which separates the country from Benin to the east. Followers worship a single god, the Mahu or Segbo-Lissa, through more than 200 deities who are represented mostly by clods of earth.
Every year in the village of Glidji, 30 miles from Lome, Togo’s capital city, members of the Guin people of Aneho, gather to celebrate the annual Epe-Ekpe or Ekpessosso festival in September marks the start of the New Year The festival attracts pilgrims from across Togo to worship, sing, offer sacrifices and seek blessings. Increasingly, followers from Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria come to worship, and it has become a tourist attraction for many Western visitors.
Amongst the various activities involved in the celebration is the presentation of the sacred stone which is collected from a sacred forest and whose color would be interpreted by the high priests and communicated its meaning to the worshippers. About 100 metres away from the high priest of the sacred forest, thousands of pilgrims gathered in the public square to sing, dance and recite incantations.
The traditional “taking of the sacred stone” ceremony was started in 1663 by settlers from the former Gold Coast — modern-day Ghana — and has now taken place 353 times.
The colour of the sacred stone is believed to indicate what the future holds for the coming year ahead. The interpretations are along these lines:
Blue means abundant harvest and rains
Red means impending conflict and war
Black means famine, disease and devastating rain fall
White means peace, goodluck and abundance
This year, the stone was blue colored. The mystical stone was passed around the public square under the watchful gaze of voodoo elders and about a dozen police officers. Bare-chested and with leaves wrapped around their necks, a small group of voodoo worshippers emerges from a dense forest in southern Togo.
The oldest among them, a man in his sixties with decorative beads around his neck, carefully holds up a blue stone and closes his eyes.
“We started the ceremonies six months ago,” says Nii Mantche, the high priest of the sacred forest, from his position on a wooden stool. Today is the climax — the release of the sacred stone. I am the only person to take out this stone from the depths of this forest.”
“The stone is turquoise blue,” a Guin dignitary and elder Togbe Kombete declared into a microphone.
Some followers (mostly females of all ages), wearing cloth wrappers up to their chests and long multi-coloured beads around their necks and arms, would dance vigorously and many fall into trances as the singing and dancing erupted around them. All covered women who attained the ‘trance stage’ were relieved of their beads and tops, baring their breasts as the music climbed to a fever pitch and dances became wilder to celebrate the good news.