Benin photographer captures voodoo via the lens

COTONOU, BENIN (Reuters) - Hundreds of Beninois marked National Voodoo Day, celebrating the once-banned religion on Wednesday with a series of ceremonies across the country.

Voodoo is an ancient belief system practiced by more than 65 percent Benin’s 7 million people and by millions in neighboring Nigeria, Togo and Ghana.

In Benin’s capital Cotonou, photographer Charles Placide Tossou marked the day with an exhibition of his latest work, featuring photographs of voodoo followers taking part in ceremonies where they dance, play drums and animals are slaughtered as a sacrifice to the gods.

“When we talk about voodoo, everyone sees the negative side of this local culture. But I rejected that, there is something more artistic about it that most people are not seeing because not everyone participates and gets the chance to see it up close,” he said.

Voodoo is estimated to be more than 500 years old and centered on the worship of a range of gods and spirits.

It is now the official religion of Benin despite the criticism and stigma attached to it. Voodoo was banned by Mathieu Kerekou after he came to power in 1972 via a military coup, but his elected successor Nicephore Soglo lifted the ban in the early 1990s.

Central to Voodoo is the belief in sacrifice and traditional medicines as a way to heal ailments and help worshippers get closer to sprits and the afterworld.

Reporting and writing by Reuters TV; Editing by Mark Hanrahan and Hugh Lawson in London