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January 11, 2013
Mysticism, modernity abound in Benin Voodoo fest

OUIDAH, Benin (AP) -- The deified residents of the Temple of Pythons, when released to find food, sometimes slither across the road into a Catholic church that once hosted Pope Benedict XVI. The local priest, the snake handlers say, is always good enough to call or bring the gorging reptiles back to their own spiritual home.

This is life in Ouidah, a mecca of spirits and gods worshipped by practitioners of Voodoo, a recognized religion in this former French colony in West Africa that is home to 9 million people. The religion has its own pope -- or two, depending on who you ask -- whose reign dates back to the 1400s and can be seen about town in his SUV.

This past Thursday, local banks and the post office closed as the town celebrated its annual Voodoo Festival, an event increasingly drawing curious foreigners. With its mix of beliefs and traditions, the Voodoo practiced here shows both a clash of cultures and the ability for ancient traditional beliefs to adapt to modern life.

(19 images)




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Aduare Achumba, a visitor to the Temple of Pythons, reacts as a guide puts a python on her head in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Ouidah, considered the major cultural city in the West African nation of Benin, held its annual Voodoo Festival on Thursday. Voodoo is an official religion in this nation of 9 million people and this year's festival honored the slaves taken from surrounding countries and sent into America and the Caribbean, people who brought the religion with them. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo worshippers dance at the Temple of Pythons during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo worshippers dance during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo worshippers make sacrifice at the beach during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo chiefs walk past The Point of No Return monument, which commemorates the slave trade during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Djabassi Manonwomin, a voodoo priestess, centre, during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo priestess Djbassi Manonwomin leads fellow worshippers of a mermaid deity to a Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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A participant in the Voodoo Festival poses with a toy camera, in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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Young worshippers of a mermaid deity prepare for the Voodoo Festival, in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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A man raises a knife to a crowd of worshippers and onlookers before slaughtering a goat at the Temple of Pythons during the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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A man slaughters a goat at the Temple of Pythons during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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Voodoo chiefs watch as a man slaughters a goat, not in frame, at the Temple of Pythons during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Voodoo dolls are seen wrapped into a woman's dress, during the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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Left: Jean Zossoujbo, a guide at the Temple of Pythons, shows a python to a visitor to the temple in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Right: A Voodoo worshiper dances during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Jean Zossoujbo, a guide at the Temple of Pythons, shows a python to a visitor at the temple in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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Jean Zossounjbo, a guide, shows a python at the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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Dancing worshippers surround a man carrying a slaughtered goat during a voodoo ceremony in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell
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A sheet covered in the blood of a slaughtered goat as voodoo worshippers perform rituals in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. AP / Sunday Alamba
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A voodoo curse, the head of a monkey with its tongue sticking out wrapped around the stick, can be seen in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. AP / Jon Gambrell

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