Benin, voodoo and what I am afraid of

I don't know much about the West African state of Benin, but the newswires have made sure to alert me to the fact it is the home of ritual Voodoo sacrifice. Which, it turns out, is relevant to bird flu because Benin is having a poultry outbreak with H5N1. This is not much of a surprise, as it is surrounded by neighbors that already have reported infected poultry: Nigeria, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso. A bit farther afield but still in the region are Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, all with reported poultry outbreaks. Nigeria has also had a human fatality.

But back to Voodoo. In the US we associate Voodoo with using surrogate dolls as stand-ins for your enemies. You know, like the George Bush doll three quarters of Americans stick pins in nightly. We also think of it as a Caribbean religious cult. But apparently its origin was Benin, and and its the Voodoo priests that should be afraid:

Health experts have said they fear Benin's Voodoo priests could be particularly at risk because of their practice of tearing out the throats of live chickens in ritual sacrifices.

Voodoo "convents" are found across Benin and the ancient religion was also carried to the Caribbean, especially Haiti, by slaves shipped to the Americas by European captains and traders. (Yahoo News)

Culls have been carried out in two locations in Benin after specimens sent to a WHO reference lab in Italy confirmed H5N1 infection. Bird flu has been slowly but steadily settling in on the African continent and this is the latest country to register it. Human cases have been reported in only three: Egypt (38), Nigeria (1), Djibouti (1), but undoubtedly more have gone undiagnosed. The region's poor public health and veterinary services make it particularly problematic.

Benin's eastern neighbor, Nigeria, is a particular trouble spot. It is the most populous country in Africa (140 million), has had confirmed H5N1 in poultry for two years (and one confirmed human case), and is about to start a holiday season where poultry is traditionally on the table. The country's Veterinary Association president Dr. Garba Sharabutu, admits there is a huge challenge but then goes on to reassure his compatriots:

Sharabutu says having a poultry meal this holiday period should not invoke any particular fear, provided the source of supply is certified safe.

"I can say that right now, the situation is under control and there is no risk in trading in livestock," added Sharabutu. "The number of outbreaks has substantially reduced. It will not constitute any problem if our people continue to trade in these animals, provided those farms that animals are coming from, are guaranteed avian flu-free." (Voice of America via Global Security)

Nothing to fear. No problem. Under control. Whenever I hear an official say things like that I want to head for the hills. Because you know what's coming next.

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Oh My Gosh!!! Can't believe you said that!
You sure made me laugh!

"You know, like the George Bush doll three quarters of Americans stick pins in nightly."

How did you know? I thought this was my little secret, just between me and my Georgie doll! ;)


And now we can all expect a visit from homeland security I suppose...

And here I thought Revere didnt tout organized religion....

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Dec 2007 #permalink

Now, now, let's be inclusive :-)

Randy, carl: I don't play favorites. They are all pretty much all the same to me. Voodoo priests? Rabbis? Catholic, Episcopal priests, Ministers? Baptist preachers? Take you pick.

So now we have evidence that there is no God.

Y'all aren't paying attention. I don't really have much interest in what the reveres have to say about religion. But when they tell me to head for the hills, I'm paying attention.

Not that I can do anything about it, Randy. The Bush economy means that I don't have any income yet.

Dear Revere,
When you post really good information and then get off into jabs and barbs (see your "I don't play favorites" post above), I begin to wonder about your attitude toward cultures in other countries. If your attitude is common among your public health peers, then I wonder if public health officials see human beings as individuals with hopes and dreams or if you see human beings as disease vectors who must be monitored, categorized, manipulated, and coerced--all justified by the superior positions you hold in the western scientific community.

You are a more important member of the human race than African priests and villagers?

I only trust my doctor when he is straight with me, tells me the information I need or tells me where I can find it, and treats me like he respects me. He doesn't get to touch me if I don't feel respected.

If you don't respect the "voodoo priest" as an individual, nor the individuals in that culture, you are not going to get the trust from them you need to treat their illnesses.

Library Lady

By Library Lady (not verified) on 18 Dec 2007 #permalink

LL: I don't understand how you could have interpreted my comment in that fashion. On the contrary, what I said was I didn't see a difference between a Catholic priest and a Voodoo priest (other than the difference in their superstitions). Do you think the Pope is worthier than a Voodoo priest by virtue of his religious role? I don't, whatever your view.

LL: Revere never seems to pass up an opportunity to slam Bush, Republicans, or religion. Pisses people off but it's a blog, not an unbiased reporting of facts. There's good info in the posts but you have to ignore the chaff.

A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison says H5N1 has mutated to infect people more easily, although it still has not transformed into a pandemic strain. This was in Oct. of this year. I have always been confused by this. Does the mutation happen at about the same time everywhere or does the mutation spread out from "hot spots". Would one hot spot at a certain point in time mean that other hot spots are more likely to pop up in other places at about the same time if the circumstanes are the same?


I "beleive" that it mutates "per hot spot" or each cluster (individual persons). . .

Could you post a link to that study? ? ?


By gilmoreaz (not verified) on 18 Dec 2007 #permalink

Brian/gilmore: We discussed the paper here. We don't know what makes this virus infect some humans and not others or transmit more easily (or not) but it is quite likely there are many different routes to that end, that is, more than one mutation at different points or combinations of them might achieve some of what is required. At any one time there are usually several seasonal strains circulating, although one or a few become predominant. So it probably isn't a matter of waiting for "the" mutation to happen but waiting for the virus to find one of several possible successful recipes (which then might change).

Sorry Melanie. The unemployment rate is 4.6% right now. Dont know what to say. You get to vote for the Democrat of your choice in about 45 weeks but I dont know that it will change anything for you though. You are a good writer Mel and I know you feel a bit neglected. Toss in with the candidate you think will win and use your off time to help them out with the gig being a paid job as a xxxx when they get elected. Federal retirement plan, federal health benefits. Its a suggestion.

Forget UHC though. The sub-prime market thing finished that off for sure now. My kid in college is in something called "Fed Challenge" where you act as analyst, then a regional Fed Board member and then a Chairman. Past and present members of the regionals Dem and Republican act as the graders and teams are formed to present their case for raising, lowering or keeping interest rates where they are.

She has learned a lot in her little military career so far and first and foremost was that 3.5 % of the population is unemployable at any given time in just about every society for a variety of reasons. The latest gig? UHC and the Federal Reserve.....The government would have to inflate the economy massively to pay for it, in response the Fed would have to raise the interest rates to an estimated 14% to keep it in check, under todays tax rates. If the tax rates went up by 15% on all Americans and 30% on all wealthy (wealthy established at 100,000 combined annual or single) it would only be about 9.5% but it takes nothing into account beyond that. Social Security payments arent in the analysis. For extra credit she came up with a number of 21% interest rates to pay for that too. Instant economy killer. LIke I said, I can only make suggestions but the system is skewed to ensure you have to be totally indigent to get help. But that is to also ensure we dont build houses for people in New Orleans, or Mississippi, or cradle to the grave someone who has no home but can work. I doubt it will change under an Obombme or Hilary, or McCain, Giuliani.

Its like Hilary saying she would pay for it with cigarette taxes.... What do you do when all the cigarette smokers die or quit smoking? You guarantee the entitlement, then you have to pay for it from someplace else. Socialism... pure and simple.

BTW folks Kenjii Fukuda just told us there is no cause for alarm about BF in Pakistan and they wont be changing the Pan level for the time being. Nope, no reason for alarm on a bug that so far has had an 83% kill rate for the last 5 months. This is obviously a little milder version (I think) but dont be alarmed if you get it. Aunt Margaret and crowd have it all under control.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 18 Dec 2007 #permalink

Dear LL,

I thought that your question was not specifically for Revere only.

It is a beautiful question though, I think that the stance of this question deepens the depth of dialogue- imperative level. It's great. Library Lady.

Beautiful opportunities happen un-expectedly.

Chickens are animals of choice in many rituals around the world, largely, I suppose, because they are easy to use and relatively plentiful. So I think this will be a problem in many more places than the ones you've mentioned. (A friend of mine who wanted to dispel his students' notions that religion in India is only about non-violence and vegetarianism began his anthropology class with a film of a mass chicken sacrifice in Kerala).

Clare: Interesting. We do mass chicken sacrifices, too, of course. Mass kills to appease the god of bird flu or mass sacrifices to the god of McDonald's.

"Whenever I hear an official say things like that I want to head for the hills. Because you know what's coming next."

I'm with Melanie on this one. Just wish I knew which hill to head for-maybe the same one(s)the reveres willgo to when TSHTF.

P.S. How did you knw about my G.W. voodoo doll?

Brian-re: "A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison says H5N1 has mutated to infect people more easily,....still has not transformed into a pandemic strain."

can you please providethe link to this?

In the US we associate Voodoo with using surrogate dolls as stand-ins for your enemies.

Actually, I associate it with sad little piles of feathers and fur in the corners of public parks in Miami-Dade County, the existence which I have personally witnessed. It is easy to tell which ones have been used in ritual sacrifice.

Legal and illegal immigrants from Haiti are here in the States. Legal and illegal immigrants from West Africa are here in the States. And yes, voudoun is here in the States, with its primitive and brutal and unsanitary sacrificial practices, because the immigrants brought it here with them.

The prospect of a successful pandemic species jump happening in Benin should be of concern. The prospect of the same jump happening in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in North America is a nightmare scenario.

Miami International Airport came third last year behind only LAX and JFK for millions of passenger departures. It is the pivotal airline hub for South and Central America. An airside ground staffer at MIA infected with high path H2H H5N1 could be the catalyst to set off an avian flu pandemic everywhere from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego, simultaneously.

And this, mind you, would happen in a region where many governments have only a notional response capability to such a crisis. How organized would be the mobilization in narco-anarchic Colombia? Or in places such as Paraguay or Nicaragua?

Even if the original Stateside outbreak were to be successfully contained, the echo from the cannonade of outbreaks to the south would be back with us within a few weeks at most, to lethal effect, as people (some of them inevitably infected) fled overland through the frayed and gauzy "barriers" of our Mexican border.

If our own country had any remaining sense, US public health organizations would be out there on the ground in the voudoun practicing immigrant communities, with a show of force meant to be literally terrifying, to make the prospect of picking up a chicken far more frightening than that of leaving it be.

Get caught in a ritual sacrifice? Instant deportation back to West Africa for everyone within eyeshot. So fast that feet don't touch the ground. What? You have a green card, you say? You may file a formal complaint with the consular office *after* you are landed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But such tactics would be denounced as racist and politically incorrect. Not to mention requiring public health authorities with adequate funding and with, well, authority. Neither of which obtain today.

The voudoun types worship dark and bloody gods. That style of worship has the potential to bring down dark and bloody times on all of our heads, and may yet do so.


You used to be able to get a George Bush dog toy at Petco. No signs of maulings on GW. Where did this whole idea of a voodoo doll come from anyway. There's only a little voodoo in Houston, we have less of it than Miami and New Orleans, but I've had enough experience of Vodoun and Santeria to know there's no pins in dolls involved, mostly just chickens. What did they sacrifice before chickens came their way? Ducks? Surely there must be African domestic ducks. Just about every culture that has ducks domesticated them. Domestic ducks are found in China, North America, Europe, and East Africa, what about West Africa?

And don't forget that chicken flinging ritual of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

But Voudoun, Santeria, and chicken-flinging Jews probably get their birds from small-scale producers who likely let their chickens wander around on at least a little bit of land to eat their feed. This is healthier than the typical factory farm run by Bo Pilgrim (TX), Frank Perdue (MD), or Frank Tyson (AR). And I think it likely that traditional hand slaughtering methods in the open air would be less likely to spread bird flu that mechanical slaughter in an enclosed building.

I don't eat much chicken in any case, but I do buy lots of chicken guts since I raw feed my cats. They mostly eat chicken necks, chicken gizzards, beef heart, and there's a guy I know who will give me a ten pound of catfish heads for five bucks now and then.