Visit London Blog » vodou altar Enjoy the very best of London Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Togo in London: African Worlds Gallery at the Horniman Museum Thu, 12 Jan 2012 10:00:55 +0000 Drum with membrane, red textile and bells at either end. Part of set with beater Wooden female Ho Ho figure (one of twin set), wearing blue dress 'Hare' green lipstick in green and gold plastic container Bottle of perfume called Bint El Sudan Gourd rattle with blue and yellow plastic beads Anyu soap in pink box

Where can you find something in London which represents the small West African Nation of Togo? The answer is in Forest Hill. More specifically, in the African Worlds Gallery of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, a  treasure trove of objects collected from across Africa.

We’ve been to the Horniman before on our World in London journey, in fact, we’ve previously featured the very Vooduon altar where the objects from Togo can be found.

Nestled among the pieces in the Mami Wata altar from Benin, are a few seemingly random objects from neighbouring Togo. Not much is known about these objects, which were acquired during a field trip in 1998. They include a glass perfume bottle, a green lipstick (!), a rattle, a drum and wooden figures.

All these objects are on display at the museum and can be seen on the Mami Wata altar, apart from the perfume bottle which is positioned out of view.

Do you know anywhere else where you can find Togoan culture in London?

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Benin in London: Benin Vodoun Altar for Mami Wata Mon, 05 Sep 2011 09:00:15 +0000  

This colourful altar from West African country Benin is on permanent display in the Horniman Museum’s African Worlds gallery.

Vodoun (voodoo) is widely practised in Benin and this altar is dedicated to the vodoun water spirit Mami Wata.

Where else in London can you find examples of Benin culture?

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Haiti in London: The Horniman Museum’s Haitian Vodou Altar Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:30:48 +0000 A skull with money in its eye sockets, plus tinsel. Photo by the author A sequin-covered bottle, and a dolls head in a jar. Photo by the author A coffin with a skull inside it, next to a bottle. Photo by the author The Vodou Altar in all its glitzy glory. Photo by the author A goblin-like figure at the bottom of the altar. Photo by the author A view of the whole altar. Image © the Horniman Museum

There’s plenty in the news about the plight of Haiti at the moment. But for our World in London series, I wanted to highlight something other than the earthquake and cholera outbreaks that we associate with Haiti today. Haiti is an historic country, with a colourful past and a fascinating blend of cultures. In the Horniman Museum, you can find a Haitian Vodou Altar that has been created with guidance from Haitian priests, a piece of Haiti right here in South East London.

The first thing that strikes me about the Vodou Altar is just how glitzy it is. After examining Mestizo’s Day of the Dead altar last week, I’m getting used to seeing different worshipping platforms, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Every piece of the altar seems to shimmer and shine with gaudy sequins and colourful material. The Haitian spirits must really enjoy their bling.

There are skulls with dollar bills in their eye sockets, dolls’ heads in bottles, brightly coloured scarves, tinsel, bottles of alcohol, and a very strange-looking goblin at the base, its head fixed to a cross with a single eye embedded into its tongue. Alongside the more weird and wonderful items, you can also see more everyday things, like a simple straw hat, and what looks like a tube of mascara.

I learn that this altar is dedicated to spirits including:

  • La Sirene, the goddess of the sea (linked to the sirens of Greek mythology). The sequin flags symbolise her presence
  • Baron Samdi, the spirit chief of the graveyard, is represented by the coffin shaped bottles, the skulls and the snake stick
  • Papa Zaka is associated with farming. His dedicated objects include the straw hat, clothing and bag, which on first glance look quite incongruous against the other more decorated items
  • Ezulie Danton, the goddess of beauty and love, is represented by those weird-looking dolls heads in bottles

Alongside these items, you can see the mixing of Catholic and traditional African beliefs that make Haiti unique: pictures of Christian saints like St Michael, with wings and a sword are a reminder of the clash of cultures in the 16th century when Europeans brought African slaves to Haiti. The Horniman’s fantastic website explains that this process of mixing continues today; altars in Haiti include images from American popular culture such as Darth Vader and Fred Flintstone.

Check out the Haitian Vodou Altar in the African Worlds gallery at the Horniman Museum. Entrance to the Horniman is free, and the museum is open every day between 10.30am and 5.30pm. And if you know of any other opportunities to explore Haitian culture in London, add them to the comments below.

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