Cotonou – Drum sounds, castanets, gongs and especially female voices praising the merits of endogenous religions … For a Sunday morning, in a neighborhood where several churches compete fiercely in the sermons, the atmosphere seems somewhat unusual.
At the entrance of the convent, a large blackboard informs about the activity of the last 90 days. But the menu of this Sunday is particular: pray for the national team of Benin, which has climbed for the first time in its history in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), played in Egypt.
To the followers of Dah Gbediga, president of the endogenous religions of Benin, joined some Vodounsi (adepts), come to bring their prayers to this "special ceremony for the benefit of the Squirrels", the National team.
In the courtyard of the residence of the great dignitary Vodoun who serves as a place of prayer, no less than five great fetishes with various roles. But this Sunday, all are put to contribution for "accompany spiritually" squirrels.
A little earlier, in the early morning, far from prying eyes, Dah Gbediga, one of his sons and other initiates immolated a goat and three sheep "to feed the spirits and exhort them to accept the entreaties of the faithful".
The twins, Sakpata, Ogou, Heviosso and Tolègba received fresh blood.
After half an hour of animation and dance, Dah Gbediga comes out of his room, shirtless and makes contact with the earth. It is followed a few minutes later by Tangninnon, a toothless sexagenarian who has difficulty holding on to his cane and whose requests because of his great initiatory career are easily accepted by the gods. It is she who will say most of the prayers in front of a hundred followers.
-'Those who think we will do poorly is wrong-
Calabash of water in hand, cowries and colas placed near the feet, the old lady chained minutes of exhortation. "This is new, what our players do in this competition. People think we will look bad, but they are wrong. We are committed to the best"she launches serenely, and at her prayers the panting cries of half a dozen chickens are mixed up, and they too will soon be passing on the altar of supplications in favor of the Squirrels.
Dah Gbediga, the president of Benin's endogenous religions is just as confident. He who for 90 days and well before the start of the competition has initiated a series of prayers for the Squirrels think that "it's a march towards progress in football with the support of the ancestors and nothing else should stop us".
Then, pray the old dignitary Vodoun caressing the big pearls of his long necklace, "we got what we had never had this year. We amaze the world and we ask the ancestors to make it last as long as possible".
Prayers for the national team of Benin, which plays its fourth CAN with a historic qualification for the quarter-finals, are not limited to this single convent.
Victor Adoko, fan of the team and priest of Heviosso, believes in the chances of qualifying for the final. Faced with his fetish, he begs him to advance the team. It was the three draws in the group stage which pushed him to accent his prayers "to increase the team's chances".
– 'Sacred Union' –
Supporters and followers, on the other hand, have a cross-reading of these prayers. Some believe it. Others not at all.
Adeline Tonouéwa, adept of the deity Thron, has repeatedly offered colas and libations to her fetish. Smiling, this midfielder Stéphane Sessègnon says "play his score".
Enock Agasounon, thinks of unfounded accusations. "People accuse Benin of advancing by the magic of Vodoun, but all teams do it", offends this official of the private administration."Nothing is free. Even what is asked for and obtained by a simple prayer in church is not free. Squirrels have talents and performance. It's their strengths first. Prayers come only after".
The cultural actor and follower Paulin Kintonou is formal. "We went to the CAN with a terrible force. This time, there is a sacred union behind the team. I firmly believe that it is these prayers that push us so far. Our dignitaries are committed to their side", he answers.