The fetish market in Lomé, Togo was everything I expected in many ways. It was also one thing that I didn’t really expect at all: smelly. Very, very smelly. I guess that’s what happens when you have animal carcass, bone and other bits piled up in the equatorial Africa sun and I should not have been so shocked. Still, the smell hit me pretty hard as I stepped out of the taxi to visit the market. At least I knew the stuff was real.
When I set out my itinerary for visiting Lomé the only item on the agenda was the Fetish Market. Whether that was due to a lack of creativity and imagination on my part of a lack of other options on the city’s part is hard to say. Still, given my other experiences in town it is probably just as well that I didn’t have a lot of things planned during my overnight there.
The market itself reminded me a bit of a badly organized flea market. Each proprietor had a table set up in front of their shop with a relatively similar collection of wares and then also a hut to provide some shade and a place to wait out the tourists like me. Somewhat surprisingly to me I did actually see one other family there shopping. Hard to know for sure if they were really out visiting the pharmacy that afternoon or imported to give me something to take photos of but they seemed genuinely interested in the various animal bits they were surveying.
Like the couple guide books had indicated, visiting the fetish market was actually a rather simple process: pay to play. As soon as they saw me step out of the taxi cab the driver and I were approached and told what the price would be for my visit. The bargain price of 7,000 CFAs (~USD$14) got me access to the site, a guide and the ability to take as many photos as I wanted. I was even treated to a private session with one of the resident shamans – white magic only, of course – to explain some specific treatments that might be useful to me. Yeah, the price is stupid high – and included a small kick-back to the driver that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to notice happening – but I was in Togo to see the fetish market and the price wasn’t horribly exorbitant so the cash traded hands and the tour began.
My guide spent the next roughly 30 minutes taking me from stall to stall around the dusty, pungent space. He pointed out the wide variety of animal remnants present. Heads of many different small creatures were prevalent. I saw small animals like cat, dog, monkey, snake and turtles. There were also larger animals like antelope, hyena, ape and elephant represented, though these larger creatures were generally only in one stall, not in all of them. Even merchants of the occult have their specialties.
I also got to learn the differences between the dolls used for sacrifice (not nearly as decorated – why would you if you’re just going to burn them??) and those for ceremony and protection. The former are above while the latter are below.
There was also the collection of guys sitting under the shade of tree on the edge of the market, passing the time with a game of dice and small stones in bowls That was actually quite a bit more interesting to me than learning what particular special power the foot of an elephant possessed but I didn’t want to offend my guide so we continued on.
After the show of all the booths it was time for my consult with the boss. Through the translator/guide I was introduced to six different tokens, each used for a specific type of protection or benefit. There was the seed of the ebony tree, for example, which provides for peaceful dreams and clarity of thought. A small clay statuette with feathers provides protection over the home so long as you let it smoke a cigarette once a year. Fortunately for the non-smokers of the world it is also possible to just sprinkle a bit of water on it to get the same effects. The trinket to protect me on my travels – decent odds on converting that sale to a white guy in Togo, I suppose – and the talisman necklace to protect me from harm in general.
Following the explanation of the six regular offerings I was shown one special option. a twig that would ensure virility. Yeah, like I didn’t see that one coming.
It was also explained to me that the pricing system for these goods was determined by the gods, not by man. The shaman had four shells that he would cast three times. The shells would tell him the price that the gods felt was appropriate for my healing and protection. I was, of course, free to negotiate if I felt the gods were trying to overcharge me. I passed on that part of the demonstration and excused myself from the market at that point.
The entire experience was about what I expected. The piles of animal bits were neat to see, even if the whole thing had quite a strong kitsch quotient. And I wanted the photos. That was enough to justify the trip to Togo for me, even with the other troubles I had while there.
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