Urbanization’s Effects on The Sacred Forests of Benin, The Birthplace of Voodoo

The government has stepped in to protect the forests.

Benin, formerly known as Dahomey,  is considered the epicenter of the spiritual practice of Vodoun or Voodoo.  Approximately 11% of the country’s population are practitioners of the ancient religion. Benin’s lush forests play a pivotal role in the faith, as they are considered homes to the sacred spirits. 

The woodlands, which have been vulnerable to anti-Voodoo attackers for several decades, now face further threats due to urbanization. Aside from being an environmental issue, some residents say that mass urbanization poses a historical and cultural threat to their society. Some Vodouisants (practitioners of Vodoun) say that when spirits are disturbed, they can inflict sickness, death and war. 

Residents in the village of Houeyogbe say they saw an increase in illnesses and inexplicable deaths after they agreed to allow the government to cut down forests.  Residents told the Associated Press that urbanization caused the spirits to release a plague on their village. 

Similar claims have been made by employees working in a gas station that stands on the grounds where the sacred forest, Aveleketezou, once stood. Employees claimed that they filled cars up with gas which then turned into water. 

The Associated Press has not been able to verify these claims. 

Dada Daagbo Hounon Hounan II, referred to as the World’s Supreme Spiritual Voodoo Chief, spoke about the negative consequences of deforestation. 

“Human beings are sacred and inviolable and must be respected. Whoever destroys a human being destroys the environment. The consequences won’t impact only one person, but it will impact everyone in time and space,” he told Africa News.

 The Circle for Safeguarding of Natural Resources is a local organization that helps raise awareness about the dangers of deforestation while showing residents how to monetize from the forest’s natural resources through honey-making and snail farming. 

Bienvenu Bossou, the executive director of the group, told Africa News that Benin’s sacred forests are diminishing at an alarming rate. 

“Agriculture is the main threat for the forests, and that’s due to poverty. As populations are poor, they can’t afford to buy fertilizer or gas for energy. From 2001 to 2012, we noticed that 14% of the sacred forests disappeared and 30% of the forests have been badly degraded, meaning that a huge part of their surface area decreased,” Bossou said. 

The government has stepped in to protect the forests. It has banned cutting down trees without state approval. They have also invested approximately USD 3 billion into culture and tourism, which will indirectly help preserve the forests.


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