Voodoo was officially declared a religion in Benin in 1996.Benin’s Voodoo Festival is held every year and is the West African country’s most vibrant and colorful event. It attracts thousands of devotees and tourists for a day filled with ritual dances and gin drinking.
Often misunderstood, the spiritual religion of Vodun — or Voodoo — conjures up images of primitive rituals, animal sacrifices, spirits and curses. But within every religion, lies beauty and mystery in the practices of those who believe.
Considered the birthplace of Voodoo, the coastal city Ouidah attracts followers from across the country as well as Togo and Nigeria who attend religious ceremonies. Getty photographer Dan Kitwood spent time earlier this year in Ouidah, where some 17 percent of Beninese practice the religion.
The photos in the gallery show Egungun spirits from the Nigerian Yoruba Clan. According to Kitwood, these masqueraded dancers depict ancestral spirits of the clan’s past who are believed to visit earth to possess and offer guidance.
“The constant beat of drumming throughout the day and into the night draws people into the secluded courtyards of Voodoo priests to discover secret ceremonies in hidden shrines and temples,” writes Kitwood on his blog.