West Africa’s Voodoo Vibes and More with Elisa Kotin

This program was organized by Ken Hudson #1206.

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Is Voodoo still practiced today? Is Voodoo a religion? What are misconceptions of voodoo?
Is it safe to visit countries where voodoo is still practiced?

Elisa is no stranger to remote destinations. With curiosity, Elisa has explored over 80 countries across all 7 continents with a strong focus on adventure, music, dance, children, the people, cultures and traditions. Elisa likes to delve in with locals to bring home stories rather than just photos.

Voodoo is practiced by 40% of the Benin population so it is quite normal to see parades of costumes with dancers fully encased in elaborate costumes. Voodoo day, January 10th, is a public holiday and Ouidah notably celebrates starting with the slaughter of a goat in honor of the spirits. A trip to Ouida would not be complete without a trip to the Temple Des Pythons. Luckily Elisa loves snakes.

Instead of shopping at a local market for wood handicrafts and textiles, you may try a dried parrot, lizard or monkey skull. You will be surprised at what can be found at a voodoo or fetish market. If you know how to ask for it, you might even get your hands on a human skull although Elisa is not familiar with any specific potions for that. Each country is unique and you will hear stories of exotic cities, towns and villages like Abomey, Ouidah, Bobo Dialaso, Ouagadougou, Gorom Gorom, Sanga, Mopti, Djenne and you can’t go to West Africa without visiting Timbuktu. Elisa suggests visiting during the Festival au Desert or Mali Desert Festival. Here she camped in tents on the sand dunes and danced for days with local Tuaregs.

From Senegal, Elisa took a short ferry to Goree Island, known for its role in the 15th to 19th century Atlantic Slave trade. It is something to stand in the Maison des Esclaves, House of Slaves, “door to no return”. You can’t help but feel the sorrow of the past. “It was from this point of no return that witnessed so much despair and agony, that Pope John Paul II stood in 1992 and said, ‘From this African shrine of black sorrow, we implore heaven’s forgiveness…. We pray that the scourge of slavery and all its effects may disappear forever.’”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Elisa’s 2-month Eurail trip across Europe at 22 quickly branched out to Asia and Africa. Traveling through 15 of Africa’s 54 countries, Elisa feels a strong connection to Africa. Favorite trips include Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa. However, this presentation will include the West African countries of Senegal, Benin, Togo, Ghana Burkina Faso and Mali as she takes us along the unique voodoo route and treacherous slave routes of West Africa.