When troubled by illness, relationship problems, or financial woes, voodoo practitioners in the West African nation of Togo go to the fetish market of Akodessewa. Located in the capital city of Lomé, the market has a row of tables piled high with dog heads, elephant feet, chimpanzee paws, desiccated cobras, and gorilla skulls. These are all fetishes, or talismans: objects infused with the power of the divine that are used to heal and protect.
Togo and neighboring Benin are where voodoo—known locally as vodun—began. Despite the effects of European colonization, approximately half of Togo's population continues to hold indigenous animist beliefs. The fetish market, which is suffused with the smell of decaying flesh, is a sort of al fresco pharmacy, the perfect place to stock up on ingredients for rituals.
Tourists are welcome to peruse the offerings and visit one of the traditional healers in the huts behind the tables. During one of these consultations, the voodoo priest or priestess will ask you to describe your ailment, then consult with the gods to determine your prescription. Animal parts are ground up with herbs and held to a fire, which produces a black powder. Traditionally, a healer will make three cuts on your chest or back and rub the powder into the wounds. Tourists of a squeamish persuasion can opt to buy a wooden doll or just apply the powder to unbroken skin.
There are no set prices for the remedies—healers toss cowry shells to ask the gods what you ought to pay. If the price seems exorbitant, you are welcome to say so. The healer will keep consulting with the gods until you reach a mutually agreeable fee.
To market, to market:
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