As a young Ivorian woman who grew up in the diaspora, I vowed to take an afrocentric approach to anything I decide to undertake. Navigating the sphere of holistic wellness (which is highly glamourised, consumerism-led and white-washed), I often felt frustrated by the dominance of Eastern spirituality. Even though most spiritual traditions are based on universal principles, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the wisdom, knowledge and spiritual practices developed by my ancestors to be in alignment with themselves and the Universe.
BACK TO OUR ROOT healing retreat in Benin, created by Wilizé Maléombho felt like a breath of fresh air. It was what I needed, a holistic approach to life from an African perspective. I firmly believe that unlearning is a form of learning. Shattering preconceived ideas on aspects of African cultures is like healing from generational traumas, they are tasks we should all contribute to no matter the cost.They set us free including the generations to come.
Yet, spiritual freedom is the most difficult to achieve especially for those of us raised in predominantly Judeo-Christian families. A mere interest in African Spirituality, Vodun, Animism or ‘traditional’ medicine is an act of rebellion and raise alarming concerns. Being the granddaughter of a highly respected and humble Pastor, (Bless his soul!), my travel to Benin was feared, highly criticised and generated all sorts of unnecessary and ignorant comments: ‘Beninese people are evil, they practice witchcraft’ or ‘don’t bring back evil spirits’ to cite a few. Unfortunately, this is the general sentiment that seeped in and spread amongst Africans when it comes to Benin and Vodun.
BTOR workshop on understanding Vodun led by Wilizé with an intervention of a specialist in the matter was literally mind-blowing. It strengthened and expanded my knowledge on this spirituality as we explored the polysemy of the term ‘Vodun’, its use in contemporary Benin and of course what it really is: ‘a legacy from our ancestors, a matter of the Universe and its principles’. These few words, as simple as their are were said by the Vodun specialist with so much authority, pride and confidence that they resonated deeply within me, connecting the dots together.
We Africans have a spirituality which does not start nor end with sacrificing a chicken on a wooden totem as popular media like Nollywood shows but which essentially respects and celebrates the sacredness of life and nature through various practises. Simply put, Vodun is a way of life, a science, a philosophy, a set of knowledge developed and used by our ancestors to harmonise their mind, body and soul.
Keren Lasme is a visual artist and jewellery designer holding a MA degree in African Studies from SOAS University of London. She is passionate about the arts, African aesthetics, literature and spirituality.