Then, as if heeding some unspoken cue, the warriors begin raking their weapons across their arms. Blood pours from their wounds. It is unbelievable, but I learn that it is designed to show the strength of their faith and the mightiness of their god.
Koku guarantees the men protection in battle and invincibility in combat. When the men of Zooti went to war, they wouldn't be afraid. Even if they were wounded they wouldn't feel any pain. Or so I'm told. Regardless, it is more than a little disturbing to watch these men intentionally cut themselves, and spill their own blood. But like voodoo itself, it is an ancient tradition, performed by these people for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Hours later, I meet up again with Sowada, who is once again calm and gentle and apparently no worse for his self-inflicted mauling. I try not to stare at the rows of deep scars running up and down his arms. He tries to explain.
"The rituals and my beliefs save me from evil spirits and protect me," Sowada says, "and if I am to live a long time it will be because of my voodoo god."
Looking at this easy-going, smiling man I can hardly believe he's the same person I saw taking part in the frenetic ritual. But I guess that shows the depth and appeal of voodoo. Ordinary people do extraordinary things when they harness the strength and power of their convictions. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than in the tiny Togolese village of Zooti.
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