Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/669

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651
ON VÕDU-WORSHIP.

ON VÕDU-WORSHIP.
By Hon. Major A. B. ELLIS.

SIR SPENCER ST. JOHN'S book Hayti, or the Black Republic, brought prominently before the English-speaking peoples of the Old and New Worlds the subject of the so-called vaudoux or voodoo worship which prevails in the island of Hayti-Santo Domingo; and the numerous articles published from time to time by Mr. G. W. Cable in Harper's and the Century Magazines have shown us what the "voodoo-worship" in Louisiana is like; but, as neither of these two authors has, apparently, had any personal acquaintance with that part of the west coast of Africa from which võdu is derived, they have, very naturally, been unable to more than describe it as they found it on this side of the Atlantic. They have been unable to tell us to what language the word vodu belongs, what it means, and what the various practices which in Hayti and Louisiana are roughly grouped together under the designation of vaudoux-worship really are. I fancy I can recollect an article, but by whom written I can not remember, in which the writer derived the word vaudoux from Pays de Vaud; and, as some light seems to be required on the subject, it is here proposed, though now perhaps rather late in the day, to give it.

The word võdu[1] belongs to the Ewe language, which is spoken on the Slave Coast of West Africa, between the river Volta on the west and the kingdom of Porto Novo on the east, and extends inland, as far as is yet known, about one hundred miles. It is derived from the verb võ—to inspire fear—and is used in just the same way as English-speaking people use the word "fetich"—that is to say, it is used as a descriptive noun "god," and also as an adjective in the sense of sacred or belonging to a god. Thus any native god may be described as a võdu, and his image, paraphernalia, and sacred tract of bush called võdu. A priest is termed võdu-no—"He who stays with the võdu." The word is not an epithet of any particular god, it is a general term; and it is, therefore, incorrect to say that "it is the name of an imaginary being of vast supernatural powers residing in the form of a harmless snake." No doubt the python-god, worshiped by the inhabitants of the southeastern districts of Ewe territory, may very correctly be described as a võdu; but it is not more a võdu than Khebioso, So, Legba, Bo, Hunti, Wu, and the other gods of the Ewe pantheon. The expression "võdu-worship" means, then, "god-worship," which is a rather comprehensive term.


  1. The Greek circumflex here indicates a highly nasal intonation. The u, as in all West African languages, is pronounced like oo in English.