The sound of drum beats, hand claps and women singing fills the air at a shrine in Cotonou in the West African nation of Benin, homeland of voodoo.
But these days the ceremonies are a little bit different, as people pray for the country’s football team to make further historic progress at the Africa Cup of Nations.
And for believers in the country where voodoo is widely practised alongside Christianity and Islam, help from the spirit world has spurred on the players.
On Sunday, Dah Gbediga, president of the indigenous religions of Benin, was joined by several other vodunsi practitioners for a “special ceremony to support the Squirrels”, as the national squad are nicknamed.
After sacrificing a goat and three sheep behind closed doors he emerged with his chest bared accompanied by a toothless priestess in her sixties who led the prayers in front of around a hundred followers.
“This is something new for our players in this competition, people think we will make a poor showing, but they are wrong, we are committed to doing our best,” intoned the priestess, Tangninnon, gripping a gourd of water and her walking stick.
Dah Gbediga said he has been praying for the team since well before the tournament began.
“There is a march towards progress in football with the support of the ancestors and nothing else should stop us,” he told AFP, wearing a beaded skullcap and necklace.
“We achieved what we had never done before this year, we have impressed the whole world and we ask the ancestors to make it last for as long as possible.”
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