This conversation took place in Berlin, 2013 it was printed in: Mathilde ter Heijne: Any Day Now, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, 2013
At the age of twelve, Messanh Amedegnato was designated as successor to his father, the priest of Vodun of his village Ageougan (Aného) in Togo. After his father’s death, Amedegnato should have taken the sacred orders, but he studied and had to go abroad instead. Since 1997 he has lived with his wife and children in Berlin. His official initiation as a priest of Hêbièsso took place in 2014.
Is there a sacred language only spoken in the context of rituals or oracles?
Yes, there is a secret language and only priests know it. Rituals are carried out in colloquial languages, in my case in Ewe, which is my mother tongue. But I can also perform rituals in other languages, always providing that I am acknowledged as a healer in the region in question. That applies to West Africa. Besides Ewe, for example, I can also perform rituals in Fon and Peda (for Benin) or in Yoruba (for Nigeria). There is another secret language for oracles.
Is there also a sacred script? What is it used for?
There is no sacred script, but we do use symbols and signs.
- 1.The “Kpêlê” were used as an oracle on the occasion of a meeting of the artist with Messanh Amedegnato.
What are the chains that you threw called? What can they tell us?
The chains are called “Kpêlê”1. They tell us what is going on. This is an oracle.
What is the difference between an oracle and a ritual?
An oracle is performed by a boconon (diviner) to find out what someone needs or to find out which Deity is involved. Then, the ritual is the means to attain it.
Are there universal rituals? Is the special cleansing soap that you once conceived a universal ritual?
Yes, there are universal rituals. The soap is not the ritual itself; it is only used for it. But it is not a normal soap, other things were used in its preparation so that special energy evolves.
Can you explain to me how the religion vodun deals with good and evil?
In principle, the effect of the Vodun’s is only positive. But that doesn’t mean that in vudon people aren’t capable of bringing about evil. Vodun reacts to evil occurrences; if someone has been given something positive through Vodun, for example, and this person then fails to give thanks for it. Or if someone is troubled by another person so that he cannot sleep; Vodun can give him back his sleep and punish the guilty party.
Is the snake an important symbol or perhaps even a means of healing?
The snake is a symbol or aspect of vodun and also a Vodun. Not all types of snakes are Vodun, but the python is, for example. We also use it as a means of healing, e.g. the fat is used as an ointment during illness. The rainbow has the same significance as the snake.
Is there a hierarchy within the vodun religion or community?
Yes, the vudon priest is at the head; he/she/they is/are followed by assistant priests, who share the same rank but have different tasks.
Are there female priests?
Yes, it is possible for women to hold every office.
What is the significance or the application of blood in sacrifices?
Vodun cannot live without blood. It is like a human being, who cannot live without blood either. You are only a ghost without blood. When animals are sacrificed, the Vodun gets the blood.
In what way does money (or coins) play a role?
In the past, people always gave an object in exchange. But today you need money if you want to buy an animal for a ritual, for example. Coins play a part in ritual because the human soul and money belong together. It is only possible to use coins for some rituals.