Accepted Paper:

Gorovodu in Bénin and Togo: between "syncretism" and "traditional religion"  


Alessandra Brivio (Università Milano-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes the reformulation of animist religions in an African contest. In southern Bénin and Togo, a vodu cult, called “gorovodu” or “tron” developed, since the ’20s - ’30s of the last century, different strategies in order to negotiate a position facing Islam and Christian religions. The “gorovodu” embodies different “ancestral” cults from northern and savana regions, and different practices and material objects reformulated in the vodu language.

Paper long abstract:

This paper traces the movements of the gorovodu - the vodu of cola nut - which, since the colonial period, has become more and more popular among vodu believers. The ritual objects, ritual dresses and part of practices have been derived from Islam world and transformed into the vodu languages. During possession the spirits arriving from the "north" enter the adepts and transform them into Muslim believers; in other contexts, the "chefs" of the cult are trying to introduce a Sunday office that, in a mimetic way, evokes the Christian Mass.

A rhetoric of order and clearness helps the "chefs" of the cult to insert themselves in the complex contemporary religious fields, trying to find a place closer to the universal religions. The ambiguity and complexity of this vodu order are expressed in the desire to elaborate a public image that, at the same time, emphasizes its foreign origins, its alterity, and insert the cult in the field of the "traditional" religion.

Both categories of syncretism and "traditional religion" are not suitable to describe the cult dynamics and the strategies that the actors have been developing to find a political position in the actual religious field. Instead it is more useful to analyze their capacity to reformulate and to incorporate universal religions elements in order to cope with their hegemonic spread.

Panel W064
Interpreting religious diversity: conversion, syncretism and religious practice