Rituals for Living
The Making of ReVodution
By Verona Spence-Adofo
Pele and Sena Voncujovi are Japanese-Ghanaian brothers born into a family that practices traditional Ewe spirituality. The brothers now attend Middlebury College Vermont, USA and are trying to raise awareness about the realities of West-African spiritual and herbal practices, specifically that of Vodu.
What started you on your spiritual journey?
“I was born into a family that practices traditional Ewe Spirituality so I was always exposed to the practices and the customs. Although our father is a Vodu (Voodoo) priest, he never forced his beliefs on us; he gave us the freedom to mold our own understanding and perspective on Ewe spirituality. Growing up, I hardly ever went to hospitals since a little spiritual bath with a mixture of herbs, combined with some pills were all we needed to feel better. I actively started to acquire spirits or ‘keys’ as we call them in Ghana when I was about 12. My older brothers, Sena and Mawuli, were more spiritually active than me and I was inspired by their amazing testimonies about the efficacy of spirits in their lives, and I guess that’s what drove me to begin to actively practice myself.” – Pele Voncujovi
“We were both born into a spiritual family, our father is a Vodu priest (Hounnon), but there is a difference between knowing the philosophy and practicing Vodu. I did not start practicing or working with spirits until I was 13 years old. Our father was born into a Christian family and he felt that he was forced into a religion he didn’t choose. For this reason, he never forced us to practice Vodu even though he was a priest. When I was in primary and middle school I was, therefore, an atheist.
When I was thirteen, I got really close to my older brother, Mawuli, who is twelve years older than me. He used to drive us to school and he was the first to tell me about the pragmatic aspects of Vodu. He was the first to teach me how to invoke spirit. When I first got involved, there was a lot of doubt in my mind. I frequently asked him “Are you sure this is real?” and he laughed and replied, “What do you think your father has been doing all these years?” Once I had my own experience with spirits, I was hooked for life. When I realized the power of Vodu, my appreciation for my culture, elders, and family, especially my father, grew significantly. I could now fathom how much valuable knowledge Africa had to offer. This is when I realized that the notion that Africans were backward, superstitious, and simple people were complete nonsense. These so-called “juju men” knew things about nature, consciousness, and the universe that not even Western scientists knew. I felt very proud to be African.” – Sena Voncujovi
How has your upbringing influenced how you perceive the world?
“My exposure to a world of spirituality has taught me many things. Growing up, we were constantly discriminated against for believing in Voodoo and those experiences showed us how close-minded many people are towards things they know so little about. The majority of my friends in Ghana are Christians; when it came to the topic of Voodoo, they were almost like brick walls to talk to, there was no compromise, no desire to understand or learn anything about my practices. This reality made me very aware of the extent of Christian indoctrination on the continent. In the past, when I spoke about Voodoo to my Christian friends, it always ended up in hostile arguments, as neither side was willing to understand each other. However, as I grew older, I shifted my approach.
I learned to force my Christian friends to question the basis of their negative perspectives on voodoo by making them question the notions of what ‘evil’ is and the implications of the colonial introduction of Christianity to Africa. These conversations, in general, were much more productive and reasonable. My increasing knowledge about ancestors and ancestral practices has made me rethink my ideas of solitude. Knowing that I belong to a lineage of innumerable ancestors, which I can call upon for guidance and support, at any given time really helps me in my darkest times. I seek great comfort in believing that I am never alone and that I have an army of Ancestors behind my back that are looking out for me.” – Pele Voncujovi
“Practicing Vodu has taught me to be humble. It is like the proverb that says “Wisdom is like a Baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it”. We live in a world where intellectual and academic achievement is valued above all other forms of wisdom. Therefore, people with herbal or spiritual wisdom are not given the respect they deserve in contemporary societies. For example, it takes about the same, if not more, amount of time, dedication, and effort to become a competent medical doctor or traditional healer; however, traditional healers are viewed as primitive whereas doctors are revered in society.
Many formally educated individuals disregard the knowledge and wisdom of healers because they are bigoted and think they know it all. However, my spiritual experiences have proven to me that knowledge exists outside the realm of academia. I have met excellent diviners who, without any prior contact, can vividly tell one’s life story: birth details, family secrets, personality, and even food allergies.
I have also had several encounters with spirit beings such as dwarves (Aziza) that can teleport and even physically manifest to teach you about different herbs. One must experience these phenomena to believe them. Indeed, there is a fine line between what is possible and impossible. So for me, when I hear about something strange, I do not quickly dismiss it as superstition or a placebo effect. This is not to say I blindly believe anything I am told, for this would be foolish. However, I am critical and at the same time open-minded. I believe this approach is the only way to gain true wisdom and perceive the world for what it is.” -Sena Voncujovi
What type of spiritual practices do you do daily?
“Though I am not as consistent as I’d like to be, I try to pour water or spirits onto the ground to pray to my ancestors and to pray to my ‘los Guerreros’ every day.” – Pele Voncujovi
“Every morning, I offer libation (gin or water) to my spirits and ancestors. I thank them for guiding me to this point. I ask them for long life, prosperity, luck, and the fulfillment of my destiny. I also ask them to protect my loved ones: family, close friends, and elders. When I do this prayer, my body starts to convulse; this is how I know the spirits or ancestors are present. It is like a state of possession while being fully conscious. If I have a specific request at the time, I ask them to grant my wishes within the next seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days. If a person requests my help and the spirits agree to assist me, I do divinations using cowries or Ifa (Afa) to see what the problem is. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing your spiritual work dramatically alter another’s life for the better.” – Sena Voncujovi
How do these practices impact your life?
“I believe that through praying to my spirits and ancestors I gain confidence and am able to strengthen my will to achieve goals.” – Pele Voncujovi
“For me, it is very comforting to know that I am never alone. When I was fifteen, I left Ghana to go to high school in Costa Rica for two years. I had no family or friends when I arrived, but I had my spirits. Anytime I felt alone, I reminded myself that there are so many spirits and ancestors that are looking out for me. Sometimes, they (my spirits) physically shook my bed to make their presence felt. On a daily basis, they scold me when I am doing something wrong or congratulate me when I have accomplished something. This has been great for gaining self-awareness because they not only tell you the positive things about yourself, they also tell you negative truths that you would usually avoid. Indeed, they teach me how to be the best version of myself in any given moment.
Above all, my spiritual practice makes me unapologetically African wherever I go. I have seen many Africans reject their identity by dressing differently, suppressing their accents, changing the texture of their hair, or even bleaching their skin to appear as Western as possible. I believe this is because they subconsciously feel that black people are inferior to other races. Many are certainly still mentally colonized. I am very proud to be African because I am cognizant of the beauty and depth of my culture.” – Sena Voncujovi
What impact do you think this type of information can have on humanity?
“I believe that educating Africans (and black people) about African spirituality is essential to salvage African pride because it increases awareness of our rich cultural, historical, and spiritual heritage. In today’s world, Africa’s history is usually narrated starting from slavery; however, Africa’s history and culture predate any other civilization in the world. It is, therefore, necessary to show, not tell, this story to instill pride among Africans and black people. This is important because our culture has been demonized and misunderstood for centuries to the point where the average black person knows little about their own past. When Africans begin to cultivate an image of themselves that is not dependent on a colonial identity, they will be able to mentally emancipate themselves and stand in solidarity with each other to liberate the continent and our people.”– Pele Voncujovi
“I believe educating Africans about traditional spirituality will help decolonize the African (or black) mind. Africans, or black people, are the only people in the world that know more about foreign religions than their own. Not only that, African people demonize their own spiritual traditions. Many continue to blame the white man for Africa’s current predicament, however, I believe, there are many ways in which African people mentally oppress themselves even to this day. For example, an African person, generally speaking, is less likely to deem Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, or another foreign religion, evil. But, when it comes to African religions (juju), they will almost always label it as satanic.
The conversation usually ends there without any critical thought. Many don’t know the truth about our traditions but don’t even want to hear the truth. When Pele and I were in school, our classmates and teachers denounced us as “devil worshipers”.
Without a doubt, many Africans have been so indoctrinated that they continue to view their own cultures from the perspective of their oppressors. As long as we continue to look down on our culture, we will never be free because we subconsciously reject ourselves. I thus believe that educating Africans about our deep spiritual philosophy and rich cultural heritage will help restore a long-lost pride among Africans and black people. Only then will we regain true sovereignty over ourselves.” – Sena Voncujovi
Tell us about your documentary ReVolution and your aims for the film?
Beyond a general introduction to the history and practices of Vodu, topics include: herbal medicine, spiritual guidance, animal sacrifice, spirit possession, gender, oral tradition and the question of superstitions. We hope this short film helps people, especially Africans, question and broaden their perspective on traditional African spirituality and its significance in today’s Africa. As Africans, we believe that having pride and respect for our deep spiritual and cultural legacy is a crucial step towards forging an African identity that is not dependent on our colonial past.
We will be releasing our first film “How would you describe Vodu” on our website (www.afrikanmagicktemple.com), Youtube (AfrikanMagickTemple), and Facebook (ReVodution) by the end of July. We will also be holding public screenings at several colleges in the East coast of the US and at the University of Ghana, the Chale Wote Festival in Accra 2016. We are also open to any requested screening or collaboration opportunities, please contact us at email@example.com.
WATCH FILM HERE
We are looking to work with African student organizations in various universities and colleges around the United States to show our documentary and photo exhibition. To make this possible, we have been networking with several African students in schools such as Dartmouth College, Stanford University, Princeton University, Brown University, Saint Lawrence University, Bates College, Lewis and Clark, Bennington College, and more. Additionally, we have been working with a few Ghanaian musicians (FOKN BOIS, Okyeame Kwame, and Samini) to promote our message. Sena & Pele Voncujovi
See communication links below to find out more about Pele and Sena including their upcoming documentary ReVodution