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Voodoo Blood Rite: Reporter on African Ritual

by Peter Standring

Editor's note: Peter Standring, a correspondent/producer for National Geographic on Assignment, spent two weeks criss-crossing the West African nations of Benin and Togo with Wade Davis, an anthropologist and National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence, and Chris Rainier, a National Geographic photographer and co-director of the Society's Ethnosphere Project. Their quest: to explore the roots of the voodoo religion in the cradle of its origin. There's a small village called Zooti in southern Togo known for its fierce warriors, and their big, bold, bloody voodoo rituals. We're told about the fearless tribesmen and decide to travel off the beaten path to see them for ourselves. We understand that it will be like nothing we have ever witnessed—a bizarre marriage of religious fervor and ancient tradition. I'm not sure exactly what to expect, but I expect I'll be amazed by whatever spectacle unfolds. Despite the sensational and frightening aspects of this ancient religion, we are going to try to make sense out of what we see. Zooti is about a two-hour drive east of the Togolese capital, Lome. It's fortunate we're travelling in a big four-wheel-drive truck because we soon find ourselves off the highway and on unpaved dirt roads. We bump along past stretches of gorgeous tropical coastline and snake through acres of farmland. Goats and pigs scramble out of our way, seeking safety on the shoulder of the road. There are no signs to direct us to Zooti, but our driver Rafiou knows the way. When the long, thin ribbon of reddish dirt ends, a cluster of mud homes topped with straw roofs appears. It is Zooti. Like many of the villages we've visited, Zooti has no electricity, no phone lines, no running water. The people here grow their own fruits and vegetables, fetch water from a community well, and raise their own livestock. The children who race out to greet us look healthy and happy and crowd around with a mix of excitement and fear. They scream when they catch...
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