Catholicism meets Voodoo in Togoville

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January, 2024

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Togoville, is located on the northern shore of Lake Togo, and to avoid a long road trip, we took a large motorised pirogue from the town of Agbodrafo on the southern shore. Fortunately, the captain was able to land on the small beach and we didn’t have to wade out as I’d feared.

On nearing our destination, the engine was cut, and when the captain began poling, we realised how shallow the water was. Our guide told us that under German protectorate, the town was named Togostadt in 1884 and declared the capital of German Togoland. When the French were given the eastern half of Togoland after World War I, the name was translated into French, and it became Togoville.

It is a religious place, with the population of around 8,500 being divided equally between Catholics and those who practice voodoo, with some hedging their bets and following both religions.

A lakeside monument commemorated the apparition of the Virgin Mary in the 1970s, and in 1985, Pope John Paul II consecrated a shrine. He travelled across Lake Togo as we had, and the wooden pirogue he used was displayed, but had been encased in concrete to prevent damage by pilgrims, although a small hole allowed us to touch the wood.

The Germans had built a large Presbyterian church in 1910, which the French converted to a Catholic church, and renamed Notre Dame Cathedral. Inside, as well as the original bright colours and stained glass, we found a woman laid asleep on the floor, another prostrate on her stomach in front of the altar, and numerous others either deep in prayer or sleep.

A dusty track through the village led us to a monument to German African friendship with a German and an African on the back of a dove with its wings raised: we could identify which was which by the shape of the nose and hairstyle.

A street led to the voodoo quarter, where near the Saturday market we found our first shrine in a small hut with a grill protecting it: this was for use by those working in the market. The second, was outside the fetish priest’s house, where a square pole, adorned with cowrie shells had a bowl on top and we were told this was the place to pray for the weather. A fertility tree was wrapped with a white sheet where sacrifices of chicken or other animals were made if wishes were granted, whilst at the ‘twins tree’ worshippers either asked for or celebrated the birth of twins. The male and female trees were identified by the latter having more branches and all the weaver bird nests (they do not build nests in the male tree). At a final shrine, community requests could be made, and a bowl of apricots had been left as thanks.

Outside the visitors’ shop was a statue of a young man wearing modern casual clothes sat on a chair opposite an elderly man sat on a traditional stool. It was said to represent the situation between locals and their French colonial masters.

Our itinerary missed a scheduled visit to the chief’s house, known as Maison Royale, but the reason was a little hazy. However, it was something to do with the fact that Togoville has two kings who should be party political neutral, but as the imposter king isn’t, our visit could have been regarded as too political.

The return boat arrived full of people, a mattress, and a motorbike and on this leg, we shared with several locals as we appeared to be the only tourists in town. Our visit concluded with an excellent lunch of simple but tasty tuna baguettes at the lakeside Hotel Le Lac.

Helen Jackson

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