Thanks to Greg Chamberlain for this post.
Date: 10 Jan 96 20:55:13 EST
From: Greg Chamberlain
COTONOU, Benin (AP) -- With pounding drums and pulsating rhythms, Benin on Wednesday celebrated the rebirth of voodoo as an officially recognized religion.
About 60 percent of this West African nation's people follow voodoo, which originated in the region, but the Marxist regime that came to power in 1972 discouraged its practice.
President Nicephoro Soglo's government said Tuesday that, in an effort to "correct an injustice," it was formally recognizing voodoo as a religion.
It declared Jan. 10 a national, paid holiday to celebrate voodoo and the country's other traditional faiths, saying they deserved the same recognition as Christian and Muslim events.
The move was seen as a political ploy by Soglo to win support in advance of presidential elections March 3. It will be Soglo's second election since becoming Benin's first democratically chosen president in 1991.
In parliamentary elections last April, opposition parties won most of the seats, indicating voter dissatisfaction with Soglo's leadership.
Sossa Guedehoungue, president of the national voodoo bureau, led prayers and the offering of gifts to the spirits during a ceremony in Cotonou's stadium.
Dancers and drummers kept up a spirited pace as alcohol was poured onto the ground as an offering to the gods to ensure peace and prosperity. A similar celebration took place on the beach at Ouidah, 25 miles to the west, which is considered the center of Benin's voodoo culture.
Voodoo has its origins in West Africa, and followers worship spirits, or fetishes, to guide them in their lives. The religion started about 400 years ago and was brought to the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, during the slave trade.