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a322: Benin voodoo festival (reference to Haitian visitors) (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   OUIDAH, Benin, Jan 10 (AP) -- It was National Voodoo Day in this west
African land and participants in flowing robes rubbed shoulders with
American tourists as some 10,000 people gathered Thursday for prayers,
sacrifices and libations.
   The annual festival is held in tents decorated with the flags of
different voodoo sects on a beach in the picturesque, coastal town of
Ouidah, about 15 miles west of the commercial capital, Cotonou.
   Daagbo Hounon Houna, head of the Voodoo sect in Ouidah, led prayers and
a benediction before sacrificing goats and chickens on a seaside altar.
   At least 60 percent of Benin's 6.3 million people practice voodoo -- a
tradition that holds, in part, that life derives from the natural forces of
earth, water, fire and air.
   Countless Africans shipped into slavery from this lagoon-lined strip of
the south Atlantic -- then called the Slave Coast -- took the legacy of
voodoo with them to the Caribbean, American South, and elsewhere.
   Today, scores of Americans and Haitians return every year to attend the
Jan. 10 festival.
   "I am proud to continue the traditions of my ancestors, who originated
from Benin," said Dah Kpogninou, leader of a voodoo sect in Haiti who
regularly attends the festival at the invitation of a participant from
northern Benin. He was dressed in multicolored African robes, with beads
hanging round his neck and wrists.
   Through the years, the festival has also become a tourist attraction,
drawing visitors from France, Italy, the United States and beyond.
   "It's a wonderful way to begin the new year," said Linda Swift, a social
worker from Chicago, who was attending for the first time.
   Despite Hollywood images of zombies and pin-skewered voodoo dolls, the
religion now draws followers from a variety of racial, religious and
cultural backgrounds.
   "Voodoo is above all about love and peace, but also the respect for
tradition," explained Kpodjinou Finagnon, a French man who became an
initiate in Benin. "Voodoo has brought me great serenity."