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szdaily -> Speak Shenzhen
Benin: ‘The Birthplace of Voodoo’
    2017-July-25  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

James Baquet

Benin is a West African country located between Togo on the west, Burkina Faso and Niger on the north, and Nigeria on the east. Most of the population lives on the Bight of Benin, after which the country was named. A “bight” is a kind of bay. The bight, in turn, was named after the pre-colonial Benin Empire, which lay in what is now southern Nigeria.

Until 1975, Benin was known as Dahomey, a word derived from the Fon language, one of two major (with Yoruba) and 55 minor languages spoken as national languages. The official language, however, is French, which is generally only learned in later school years.

“Dahomey” has an amusing etymology, which may be a false one. It seems a king requested land from a prominent chief named Dan who, feeling abused, responded: “Should I open up my belly and build you a house in it?” The insulted king killed him, and built his palace on the spot, calling it “Dan-xo-me,” or “inside Dan’s belly.”

“Benin” was chosen to be more inclusive, as the original area of Dahomey constituted only about one-third of the modern country. Today it is a presidential republic.

Though Christians make up nearly half of the population, and Muslims another quarter, it is the Fon practice of Vodun, and the closely-related Yoruba worship of Orisha, that have caught the world’s imagination.

This is because people transported as slaves in the African diaspora brought these practices to the “New World,” where they developed into what some call “Voodoo.” Caricatured as a religion in which people stick pins in a “Voodoo doll” to take revenge on enemies, Vodun and Orisha are actually highly-developed religious systems.

The cosmology of Vodun involves a hierarchy of spirits (called vodun) governing the earth, from major deities representing the forces of nature, to the spirits of a particular rock, tree, or stream. They are approached in ways similar to how Catholics approach angels and saints, allowing an easy syncretism between the two when brought to the then largely-Spanish domains of the Caribbean.

Vocabulary:

Which word above means:

1. origin of a word

2. blending of religions

3. spreading of a people from a region

4. getting even with someone

5. system of ranking one thing above another

6. badly treated

7. gods and goddesses

8. study of the structure of the universe

9. curved area of a shoreline

10. exaggerated in a way that makes something seem ridiculous

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