Today the people of Benin celebrate the ancient religion of their ancestors, Vodun (Voodoo), in a festival known as Traditional Day, or Vodun Day.
Vodun is a religion of West Africa, and may be one of the oldest religions in the world. It traces its roots to the religious practices of the Yoruba peoples of Dahomey, around what is now Benin, Togo, and Nigeria about 6,000 years ago.
Variants of Vodun spread to the Americas through Haiti and the West Indies during the slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries. Haitians continued to observe Vodun religious practices in the early 19th century despite the Christianization of Haiti and the Caribbean by the Roman Catholic church.
Vodun’s reputation in the West was not enhanced by books like Sir Spenser St. John’s Haiti or the Black Republic (1884) which detailed erroneous accounts of human sacrifice and cannibalism, descriptions extracted from Haitian priests under torture. By the 1930s Hollywood had cemented this image of African “Voodoo” in the mind of the movie-going public, an image the religion never fully shook off.
Vodun means “spirit”. In Benin, Vodun recognizes a supreme deity as well a pantheon of saint-like spirits, each of whom is associated with a specific attribute (forests, storms, the sea, war, etc…). Spirits may change from region to region.