I’ve been in Africa for months before I feel the voodoo in Ghana. Africa. Facing it. Global White Supremacy sitting inches from my face. Staring at me with all its ugly, warty, bad breath and leering control.
All the echoes of the script of hatred and fear that has been installed in me bounce off the inside of my head and I now feel hopeless, desperate. The world has cursed Africa. What the fuck can anyone do about it? Get pulled into the White Savior narrative? Does that help?
I am exhausted from being treated as a walking dollar bill, but I am one.
What am I doing? Traveling the poorest continent during a global crisis. Hoping that I’ll set some sort of example. Spending my money. I justify it with this Robin Hood narrative. Who knows though, who knows.
I first feel the voodoo in Ghana through my host, who retrieves me from the airport with a taxi driver friend of his and drives me to his place. He lives in the ghetto of Accra. Tema. Community 8. Mostly families. Residential. Whereas Community 1 is commercial, and the heart of ‘hood.
The first hint of voodoo in Ghana is that it is 100% safe, for me, a white USAmerican, to walk around the ghetto at any time of day or night.
My host says that peacefulness is Ghana’s best natural resource. I ask my host’s girlfriend why, why is it that the Ghananian people are not violent?
“We just don’t have it in our hearts.” she replies, shrugging.
My host’s son is severely autistic. My second hint of voodoo is seeing how often the boy is locked in the house. Host doesn’t want anyone getting a hold of him, because there are plenty that blame his condition on voodoo, and at the same time there are dark voodoo priests that would gladly harvest materials from his body for their rituals.
Voodoo in Ghana is real.
I ask my host if he can get me some weed, because it seems cool to talk about and he’s wearing a pot leaf shirt. It turns out he doesn’t smoke, but he does get me some weed. It’s powerful.
I feel strange energy in Ghana. The veil between planes is thin there. Words cannot do the altered state justice.
One night we are walking from Community 8 to Community 1 and I hear chanting/singing/wailing. My host is about to turn a corner but then sees my face.
“Ah, I bet you want to see what that is.” he says, and turns around.
He is a born leader. I see him as the next president of Ghana.
We walk through a park slowly. All the models for what I thought I would see connected with the sound of what I’m hearing don’t match up. Nothing can prepare me.
There are three people standing in the park, in the moonlight, stick straight. Not moving their bodies. They are praying. Singing and chanting as loud as can be.
My host and his girlfriend try to translate the word for what they call what is going on here.
“The Madness” is as close as they can come.
“First there is one, the next night there are three, and the next thing you know they are putting up a church.” says my host’s girlfriend, shaking her head. She has adamant opinions about religion. So does my host. He claims his are hard-won, and hers come directly from her mother. He teases her about it. Tells me that he is certain she will grow out of it.
Her refrain is that the religious people in Ghana don’t read the Bible, they just listen to the priest. And then they do whatever that priest tells them. And this is what has led to all the problems that Ghana has.
“If they would just read the Bible, they would see.” she says, sternly.
“Ah!” My host makes a noise of disagreement that I’ve heard among black Americans and mimicked unconsciously myself.
The wailing and praying gets louder as the three people in the park bounce off of one another vocally.
“They pray as if God is deaf.” says my host’s girlfriend, shaking her head.
We visit Community One twice. The first time there I meet some shop-owners. One of them also doubles as the neighborhood loan shark. He’s converted to Judaism. The temperament of a guard dog, he is short, smart, tough.
He’s super excited to meet me. They drag out another local who also has converted to Judaism and the two sit rapt, grilling me.
This is the first I learn of the Lost Tribes and West African Jews. My host makes a noise of disapproval.
“This idiot, look, no offense, really, you’re Jewish, actually, by blood, and yes I know you can convert, but this idiot here been Christian, Muslim, and now he’s Jewish. I mean, you can be religious however you want I guess, but look where the fuck he lives. 50% of the business here is on Saturdays, but he gotta close on Saturday now cuz he Jewish.” my host shakes his head.
I shrug. The three of them are staring at me for my reaction.
“He keeps the Sabbath.” I say, shrugging again.
The loan shark bounces to his feet and pounds his fist against his chest, then pointing it at my host.
“I keep the Sabbath.” he says, in defiance, towards my host. My host just shakes his head.
“I knew you’d encourage him.” he says to me, looking into my eyes. He knows we share the same feelings about religion. That we both believe in nothing. And everything. And something else altogether.
We spend the night talking about life and beliefs and religion. Superstition, the Bible. They want to know whether these white people that brought this religion they all were raised within believe in it themselves.
“No, it’s just a tool of control.” I say. What else can I say? They nod, aware, yet subjugated.
They want to know if I have ever seen a ghost.
“Well…” I say, looking at my host because my answer will be complex and so is he, and I’m gauging how far into it he thinks I should go. He reads my mind.
“That’s a stupid question. He says to the guy that asked it. “You don’t see a ghost, you FEEL a ghost.” he says, locking eyes with mine. I nod.
I have. Have felt the spirits and entities and the other planes. Once, I didn’t believe in these things. Now, I’ve had experiences that have made me question belief in general.
“Yes, I have felt a ghost.” I say. They all then share about the times that they have as well.
The two Jews treat me like a sister and beg me to come back the next night. I do.
My host tells me about the Year of Return that Ghana had in 2019 to popularize their option of passport and their Law of Return for those affected by the African diaspora. I poll my African American friends. None are aware.
Anyone of African descent can get a passport from Ghana. They want people. It’s a beautiful thing. Of course returned Africans pay five times the price as locals, but it is what it is.
The only other country I know about that has a Law of Return is Israel. I see multiple Israeli flags alongside Ghana flags during my visit.
The second time we are on our way to Community One in a taxi and get pulled over by the cops.
“Put on your mask.” says my host, and we all quickly do, except my host’s girlfriend who is sitting in the front seat of the car.
I’m surprised that Covid restriction is being enforced by the local police, but we’ve already been to an illegally operating bar so I’m sure I don’t understand the nuance of their restrictions.
The cop leans into the driver’s side and sees us all wearing masks except my host’s girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat. He speaks to her in a stern but loving tone, like a father.
“Where is your nose mask young lady?” he wags a finger at her. I am stifling laughter in the back seat.
“I did not have time to buy one today.” she singsongs in that beautiful Ghananian accent.
“Well make sure you make time to buy one tomorrow.” more finger wagging, and we are let go without being searched. I marvel that the term is “nose mask”. Accurately descriptive.
We arrive again at Community One. This time it’s a larger group of guys, and still the same questions. About belief, superstition, and the supernatural. I’m asked what I think of voodoo in Ghana.
“I think that voodoo in Ghana is more powerful than voodoo in other places.” I say, honestly.
I have seen it as Santaria. As Macumba. But I have never seen voodoo like voodoo in Ghana.
On the way out of Community One I see that shops are open 24 hours here. The shopowners set up a bedroll in front of their shop. The possibility of one small sale in the middle of the night makes it worth it for them to sleep on torn up concrete outside. What can I do? I buy water.
The food in Ghana is exceptional. The spices and mix of flavors is like nothing I’ve had before. One night my host and his girlfriend cook “Red Red”, which is red beans and plantains fried in red palm oil. I watch my host’s girlfriend pour red palm oil a few inches deep in the cast iron to prepare the plantains.
“Holy shit do you know how expensive that stuff is in the United States? Just over here cooking with gold, ain’t ya?” I remark. She laughs. My host tells me it’s about 6 cents per gallon here.
My host’s girlfriend works at a beauty salon. She offers to braid my hair. I know that in the US at this point, me having a black hairstyle would be frowned upon. Cultural appropriation. I’ve just given up dreadlocks that I had for 17 years, and all the shade that came with them. But here, in West Africa, the same stigma doesn’t exist. I go for some wine-colored braids down to my waist.
The process takes four and a half hours. She is very fast, and very good. We sit in the kitchen talking about life and travel. I tell her my next stop is Kumasi.
“Oh, that is a good thing to see in Ghana. Very historical.” she says. “You can see the sword.”
She then tells me her version of the story of the sword stuck in the ground. I’ve since heard other versions, but none are as good as hers. They all have the ending in common – that white people came with excavators but still could not remove the sword from the ground.
The sword belonged to a great Voodoo king/priest/warrior. He was told that he could keep his powers and have everlasting life, as long as no one in his family cried when he was injured in battle. He told his family this. Then he was injured.
“But you know, there’s always one in every family…” she says, rolling her eyes, and tells me about the auntie who cried.
Because he knew that he would die, and that his family couldn’t be the ones to carry on his powers due to this weakness, he transferred all his powers to the sword, and drove it deep into the ground. And to this day, no one has been able to remove it.
I note my racist reaction to this being the thing that makes the area “very historical”. She mentions nothing about the Ashanti Kingdom. I note my tendency to see history in terms of war, empires, and kingdoms and again see the brainwashing I’ve been subjected to.
I do see the sword. It’s apparently been there for four hundred years. It’s now surrounded by a hospital campus, which is weird.
Because the Kumasi museum is closed for renovations, the sword is the only historical thing I see in Kumasi.
While having my hair braided, I learn more and more about voodoo in Ghana. I learn the most about voodoo in Ghana from my host’s girlfriend, who spills it out to me whenever he is not within earshot.
She tells that people made deals with the voodoo priests. I have seen the words “Magic Wallet” on every witch doctor ad on every telephone pole from South Africa to Nigeria. I ask about it and she nods her head. She says there are rules and restrictions:
“You can’t sleep during the night, can only sleep while others aren’t. Can’t spend the money on anything permanent, or on your family. You only get a certain number of years to live. But then, the money just appears in your bank account. And then you *have* to spend it. You can’t save it.”
She tells me it’s mostly young men who fall for this. Who have no other hope economically. Whose status in life depends on their success. She says that the voodoo priests used to do good for people. To heal people. But increasingly now it is black magic, for money.
“And with Corona,” she shakes her head “It has gotten so much worse. They kidnap children and remove their sex to do the rituals.” she tells me, motioning to her genitals and breasts. I believe her.
Ghana is a growing center for tech in Africa. With this comes an even sharper divide between rich and poor. There is plenty of incentive for the black magicians to work with.
I can feel the other planes and therefore I don’t finish the weed I had my host buy me. Can’t bring myself to smoke it. Whenever I do imbibe I feel an energetic churning that tugs on all my nerve endings and makes me question everything. Even sober voodoo in Ghana swirls around me, I can’t take on any other drug on top of it.
When I think of Ghana now, and close my eyes, I see entities, dancing. One doesn’t have to look very hard at all to find voodoo in Ghana.