A boy in Akodessewa, Togo, holds up an animal skull at a market here. Voodoo practitioners believe this fetish has powers, like other amulets and animal parts for sale here. While the practice of Voodoo varies widely across cultures, it generally involves communing with spirits of ancestors for guidance and powers.
Since Voodoo, or “Vodun,” is endemic in Togo, some children work at fetish markets and live in shrines, sometimes abused, instead of going to school. Voodoo priests and priestesses consult spirits to determine how and when children in the community should be initiated into their congregations. The initiation can require children to live in a shrine for years, consuming animal blood, raw meat and worse. Some kids earn money for the shrines by working at fetish markets or begging.
Even many Christians in Togo mix animistic beliefs with their faith in Christ and build fetishes like the one above in hopes of receiving protection from evil spirits. The promise of prosperity and control seems especially attractive in impoverished places, where people who have never had access to an education are desperate to ease their suffering. Some Togolese parents allow their children to live in shrines because they fear punishment from spirits if they don’t.