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Traditional Cures, Talismans at Togo's Fetish Market

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In parts of West Africa, traditional remedies used in religions like voodoo or juju are as popular as Western medicines. In Togo, in the capital city Lome, the local Fetish Market is a source of potions for just about any ailment or simply for good luck. NPR's Ofeibia Quist-Arcton goes shopping.

(Soundbite of clanking noise; people speaking in foreign language)

OFEIBIA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

Children fling foam used in purification rites. On the outskirts of Lome, tucked away down a dirt road, sits the Fetish Market, le marche de fetiche.

Mr. JOSEPH OBA MAYEBE(ph) (Herbalist): Now we are in the Fetish Market now. And this place be like a farm market for everybody in the world. When somebody have a sickness now, even if that sickness is ...(unintelligible) hospital, then we send you to the Fetish Market here.

QUIST-ARCTON: Joseph Oba Mayebe is a herbalist from the neighboring country Benin, but runs his market store here in Togo. He's one of the traditional healers at the Fetish Market who sell supplies and make up potions, powders and remedies.

Mr. OBA MAYEBE: Here now we have a different kind of ...(unintelligible) market. This here now we have different birds--vultures, and an owl. We have chameleon, the head of a snake viper, cobra, skin of a tiger, lion, hyena.

QUIST-ARCTON: Oba Mayebe, nicknamed the Doctor, leads his reporter through the dusty, fetid fetish market among rows and rows of stalls hawking neat paths of hundreds of all manner of dried animals, birds and crustaceans and skulls and skeletons.

Mr. OBA MAYEBE: That is a vulture's head, and we garnish with herbs. And after that, we have to put it on the fire, she has to be, like, a black powder.

QUIST-ARCTON: Inside the voodoo market, taking center stage is the market fetish itself, erected for protection. It's a messy bonfire mix of birds beaks and feathers, snake skins and other animal pelts and a wooden statue bound together with dried blood. It's a quiet day and the traders, men and women, are lounging by their goods hoping for customers.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Amidst this setting, slightly offset from the rain bucket in his shrine, was the fetish priest and voodoo chief of the market. Chanting incantations, he was offering spiritual benediction and healing powers at a price. Faced with a reporter, he came up with an instant prescription.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: `You need a telephone talisman,' said the fetish priest. And so a tiny little key chain-sized wooden doll goes through the motions and is handed over as a good-luck charm.

Mr. OBA MAYEBE: And this is now--this is one of spiritual power. Then we call it (foreign language spoken). In English, people call it telephone fetish for a traveling one. They maybe want to travel from Togo to America, take it with your left hand.

QUIST-ARCTON: Addressing skeptics, Oba Mayebe, the traditional healer, said customers from all over the world come to the fetish market in Lome in search of healing.

Mr. OBA MAYEBE: If you came here with your problem, he can help you. He doesn't use the black magic, only the white magic to help everybody in the world. When the people came here, they say that they need black African power.

(Soundbite of clanking noise; song)

Group of Boys: (Singing in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: These teen-age boys just out of school perform one of the songs reserved for the special Lome Fetish Market closing ceremony held once a year.

(Soundbite of clanking noise; song)

Group of Boys: (Singing in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, at the Fetish Market in Lome.

(Soundbite of clanking noise; song)

Group of Boys: (Singing in foreign language)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More DAY TO DAY just ahead from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.
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