Mami DaPovi has been a voodoo priestess since 1960. She practices in Aného, Togo.
Mathilde: Thank you for receiving Messanh Amedegnato, with the priest name Togbo Honon-Hounougbo Bahounsou.
Messanh Amedegnato: In our culture, when someone receives a visitor at the ceremony, everyone is prepared to share his or her knowledge and powers with that person. I am also happy that you are visiting our ceremony.
Mathilde: Mami DaPovi, is there a difference between female voodoo and male voodoo?
DaPovi: There are many gods. There are masculine gods and feminine gods. Each of these gods belongs to someone. A man can also have a female voodoo or a woman can have a male voodoo.
Mathilde: DaPovi, how did you discover that you were supposed to be a priestess?
DaPovi: Already as a small child I was appointed to be a priestess, but this was forgotten. Until 1960, I had many problems; nothing was going well for me, and I was always sick. There were also many problems in my family. In 1960, my family finally had enough money to have a ceremony, and we asked a priest what was happening to me. When he made the oracle and performed the ceremony, we discovered that I was meant to be a female voodoo priest. Back then, all of the gods for snakes, the rainbow, the earth and the sky appeared in my trance voodoo. This had to be taken care of before I could become a normal person again.
Messanh: Did you understand?
Mathilde: Yes. She had to walk this path and become a priestess, because otherwise there would be an imbalance in the family.
Messanh: When someone is not following what he or she is meant to be, then this person will not get old and be ill very often, until his or her destiny is followed.
Mathilde: So this is not a temple for one god, but for several. Male and female.
Messanh: She has many gods. All snake, earth and sky gods. The spirits of the snake pray for water and Toulabo, my god of thunder, cannot work without water, so he needs those spirits to work. That’s why Mami DaPovi and I are working together.
Mathilde: That must have been difficult for her.
Messanh: She was born that way, with this fate. That means that when everything is as it should be, the gods give you the energy to manage it.
Mathilde: Was she able to lead a “normal life” after that? With a partner and children, for instance?
Messanh: Yes. Once she knew about all the gods, she had a normal life. It was a catastrophe before that. After the oracle in 1960, she got a husband; she had children.
Mathilde:And her main job is to be a priestess?
Messanh: Yes. She has been a priestess ever since.
Mathilde: And how is it for her husband? What does he think about her being a priestess?
Messanh: Her husband is okay with it. The man is part of the village and is okay with it. When they got married, she had to do one wedding for the husband and one for the gods. And the gods set out days of the week—Monday or Tuesday, for example—where she was not allowed to sleep in the same bed as her husband. As long as she respected these rules, it would not be a problem.
Mathilde: Is there a god that is both male and female? Are there gods that are neither?
Messanh: I work with the voodoo of thunder Hêbièsso and I am priest for Toulabo and Adanyro. The male side,Toulabo stands outside my temple; the female part Adanyro is inside, in the room.
Mathilde: So Hêbièsso consists of many gods. Some with aThe female side and the male side.
Messanh: Yes, it is like this: the powers on the male side (lightning) are “angry,” because something is happening that is not good, and the female side (thunder) says, “Alright, come down. We can do this.”
Mathilde: Are there specific characteristics that are viewed as male or female? What are the characteristics of a female god, for example?
DaPovi: Here in the temple we have the rainbow god, for example [painted on the wall]. The rainbow is a god with two heads, for instance. The rainbow itself is female. Then there are water drops in the rainbow, and these are male.
Mathilde: This is a very big topic in Europe or Germany right now; that many men feel more like women and vice versa. That this is no longer clear-cut. I thought it might be much more free with the voodoo? That it isn’t so regimented. For example: we attended a ceremony with you, Mami DaPovi, and a lot of women sang together, danced together, fell into a trance. It was somehow different from the other ceremonies. What was the difference?
DaPovi: Because it was a ceremony for female voodoo. When you have a connection to one of my gods, you might for instance see a snake in a dream. Again and again. And then I can use the oracle to see what kind of snake it is. Then I find out which of the gods you belong to. The oracle can also tell you if you belong to the male or the female part of a god. For example, there was a man who thought his god was the masculine part of the rainbow. He had problems in his life and went to see a priest who found out that he belonged to the female part of the rainbow god. When the ceremony ended, the man could face his problems, which disappeared over time. The oracle finds out which person belongs to what kind of god. It is the same with Mathilde’s god Dazo Dji, the earth god. Women and men that belong to this god immediately go into a trance. And when the people dream and sing in the ceremony, your god can “visit” you.
Mathilde: Could there also be a trance dance with just one priest, and only men attending?
DaPovi: When a man goes into trance, it is very difficult for him to go back into a normal state. They last longer. This is why men try not to go into trance. It costs them a lot of energy. For women it goes much faster.
Mathilde: Why is that?
DaPovi: It has to do with the gods. They do not let the man go.
Messanh: Do you want to know how many gods there are in DaPovi’s temple? When she is invoking the gods she would first start with Lisagbadji. That is the first god. The second is Dawwoèkè. The third is Adjakpa Koliko. That is the crocodile. One voodoo is called Edanhoèdo, others are Mami Agbannon, Dazo Dji.
Printed in: Performing Change, Mathilde ter Heijne, Published by Sternberg Press in association with Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg