Voodoo is a hugely misunderstood spiritual practice dating back thousands of years and uniting many from the African diaspora. The voodoo (or Vodun, as it is pronounced in the African languages) is practiced by the people of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria. The word ‘Voodoo’ comes from the West African Fon people from southern Benin, and it means ‘spiritual entity’. Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. The vodun are the center of religious life. It believes in two interrelated worlds—the visible and the invisible. It is in death that we are brought to the invisible world and where ancestors serve as guides and protectors. The myth of the voodoo doll as a tool to bestow a curse is something that has been propagated by popular culture and Hollywood in particular. This doll pertains to a type of African folk magic called hoodoo. They have very little place in the religion and are not used by the majority of practitioners.
In Central Africa, the Nkisi are part of the voodoo rituals and tradition. These are spirits, or an object that a spirit inhabits. The banganga are spiritual healers and mediators who harness the powers of the spirits through the Nkisi they create themselves. This particular fetish is a Nkondi, a subclass of Nkisi that are considered aggressive. This power figure contains a spirit that is activated by hammering a nail into it. Their primary function is to be the home of a spirit which can protect villages from witches and evildoers. Because they are aggressive, many nkondi with human figures are carved with their hands raised, sometimes bearing weapons. The purpose of the nailing is to “awaken” and sometimes to enrage the nkisi to the task in hand. A nkisi-nkondi also worked as a deterrent. Important agreements could be sealed in front of the figure, which would then punish all future violators.