By Raluca Besliu
The walls of the vodun convent in Anfoin, a small village in the West African country of Togo, were painted with images of vodun and Hindu divinities. The 80-year-old mamissi, the convent’s head priestess, waited in a chamber covered in photos of her predecessors and depicting various vodun gods, whose cult she carries. Hers is one of many vodun convents spread across Togo, Ghana and Benin, where the West African traditional religion is amply practiced.
Vodun is an African religion that first appeared at the end of the 16th century on the shores of the Mono river, which separates Togo and Benin. The religion revolves around the adoration of the god Mawu through intermediary divinities represented in earthly objects. Father Bruno Gilli, an Italian priest who has lived in Togo for more than 40 years, explained that vodun divinities are separated into three main categories — celestial, sea and earth — based on the part of the world that they are responsible for. The world’s happiness is dependent on their collaboration.
To preserve and perpetuate the religion, children, both girls and boys, are introduced to the mysteries of vodun at a young age. Lasting one year, the initiation takes place in the convents, where the children are trained in worshipping one or several deities. Most children must remain in the convent for four months, after which they can return to their families and finish the initiation from their homes.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.