Skip to main content

Centre of African Studies: Events


The Idea of “India” in West African Vodun Art and Thought

The Idea of “India” in West African Vodun Art and Thought
Speaker: Dana Rush # University of Strasburg
Hosted by
Introduced by
Date and Time
26th Oct 2016 16:00 - 26th Oct 2016 17:30
Seminar rooms 1 & 2, Chrystal Macmillan Building

Co-hosted with the Centre of South Asia Studies

There are many ideas of India. In West African Vodun art and thought, the idea of “India” offers boundless aesthetic and spiritual opportunities, especially regarding Mami Wata, the modern Vodun of wealth and beauty. Mami Wata spirits, commonly referred to as India spirits, are represented in Vodun temples by elaborately detailed chromolithographs and wall paintings stemming from Indian –mainly Hindu—deities.The Indian chromolithographs have been incorporated into Vodun because of their open-ended structures and richly suggestive imagery, which allows them to embody diverse ideas, themes, beliefs, histories, and legends. The Indian prints both teach and serve as vehicles of divine worship; they suggest rules of conduct, recount legendary narratives, and act as objects of adoration. The specific animals, foods, drinks, jewelry, body markings, and accouterments within these chromolithographs have become sacred to the Vodun spirits represented. That is, these Indian gods have not been combined with, but rather they are local gods.Chromolithographs from the Ramayana, as well as from other Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and world religious lore, are available for purchase in local markets in Togo and Bénin. Other prints, available from local Indian stores in the form of decorative promotional calendars, express a clear first-order advertising purpose within the local Indian communities. These same prints, however, have second and third order significances within Vodun artistic and spiritual sensibilities: the super-abundance of flowers, gold, jewels, coins, and other luxurious items surrounding the spiritually charged deities depicted in these prints function as links into particular Vodun sensibilities, especially those of Mami Wata.Drawing mainly from fieldwork in Togo and Bénin in the late 1990s, I will demonstrate how and why this idea of “India” has been seamlessly absorbed into Vodun art and thought, how artists, priests, and priestesses have adopted and adapted these images into their own local visual theologies, and how in the recent years, the internet (mainly Facebook) has spread the influence of India-Vodun Spirits worldwide.

Edinburgh Students