A New World Name of an Ancient African Magical Tradition

The word "Hoodoo" is a term commonly used by the African diaspora, to refer to various forms of African-based systems of magic, spiritual and medicinal healing, and "hexing," via the use of primarily roots and herbs.

It originally was one of several pejorative labels used by whites to refer to all African Traditional Religions originating out of Africa; particularly the ancient ancestral Vodoun traditions of the West Coastal Africans. It eventually came into popular usage in America to refer to a specific system of ethnobotanical "root" magic and folklore practiced largely by the African, Native American and Latino Diaspora.

The Ancient African Origins of "Hoodoo" is actually derived from a complete, highly developed, and very powerful system of magico-herbal knowledge and spiritual mastery, intimately connected with the Spirits (Vodou), and carved images used to represent them, and the human Se (soul) known as "Bochio".

This knowledge was particularly mastered by most Africans who inhabited what has been commonly known as the Guinea Coast, all the way to Nigeria and the Bight of Benin (Ghana, Ivory Coast,Togo, Angola Senegal etc.) It is from these African populations in particular (Fon, Ewe, Yoruba, Kongo (Angola) based groups) who carried this knowledge and tradition with them during their forced migration to the New


From the Beninise perspective, if one were to substitute the word "Hunbonon" (familiar/mother) or Gbo/Gbokonan (medicine maker) for the popular New World term "Hoodoo", one would be placing this system of both magic, esoteric science, medicine and art, back in its historical milieu.

The term [Hunbonon"] itself refers to a body of powerfully consecrated priests whose title literally translates as "producers or activators." Producers in the sense that it is they who not only possess the knowledge of all of the most sacred herbs, animals, metals, and other products of nature, used in magic, "hexing" and medicine, but are also its activators.

These priest are derived from all aspects of West African traditional spiritual practices, from our Bokonons,(geomancers), Azondoto, Zokas, Garbara, Akpases (sorcerers), Botonons (priest) and Mamissis (Mami Wata priests) etc.,.

Indeed, folk magic that is known in  America as Hoodoo, contrary to what has been assumed as being an exclusively Congo import, had also existed in this popular form all throughout West Africa. It was brought over to the America's on the slave ships. As the magic and beliefs of the common people, consider the quote below, extracted from an 1890 expedition by A.B. Ellis of the "Slave Coast". During his visit in Togo, Ellis observed and commented:

In ancient Dahomean cosmology, it is taught that it was the ancient Forest Spirits known as "Azzizas" who taught Legba first the sacred use of herbs. He in-turn, along with the Vodou taught our most ancient ancestors, to assist in the delicate process of controlling and/or changing ones personal destiny.

When the Africans arrived in the New World as forced slaves, they arrived with an extensive, encyclopedic body of knowledge, and in-tact system on the use of roots,herbs, animals, natural elements, and their powerful spiritual, esoteric, medicinal (ahame) and alchemical properties.

They also carried with them an enormous body of folkloric beliefs, stories, and truths transmitted and passed down to them since the beginning of time, directly from our ancient ancestors.

A tragic combination of historical events i.e., slavery, discrimination, religious persecution, inability to pass the knowledge to successive generations, and the unavailability of some native African plants, forced many Africans to assimilate some Native American practices and traces of European folklore into their practices. But the actual techniques, and philosophy behind it, remained completely African.

More importantly, for the first time, it forced a complete separation of bochio and gbo ("juju" making), as a sacred and absolute intricate part of Vodoun, from its purely "religio-spiritual" function, and as practiced by the powerful Ewe/Fon Gbo/Gbokonans, giving birth to what is known in "popular folk magic" today as "Hoodoo:"

the study, practice and utilization of chiefly roots, herbs, natural elements, and their magical, esoteric and medicinal use, by anyone who so chooses without the philosophic, initiatory or theological practices of any particular spiritual system or the intervention/consecration by its divinities/gods.

In this respect, "Hoodoo" becomes uniquely American for those who subscribe to the above. Initiation into the RELIGION of Vodoun (i.e. possession of and consecration by the Vodou Spirits) to learn and practice "HOODOO" is not required. One can learn via independent study, or either through "folk" knowledge passed down from family, or (the most common) through the use of popular books.

In America, one will commonly hear the term "rootwoman", "jujuman/woman", "conjurer" or "root doctor" to refer to a person who works primarily with roots and herbs. Though the term is now used to replace the ancient Hunbonon or "Azondoto" (herb maker and activator) its practice, and mode of object presentation (with the exception of sculpture making which was outlawed in the New World) remains largely unchanged as it did in ancient Africa. Its most popular names are the French and Portuguese "Gris-Gris", "Fetish" and "Juju", terms that are still in popular use in West Africa today to actually refer to "bad magic." "Good magic" is commonly known as "ebo" "gbo" and "bo." (mojo, amulets, talismans).

Also, contrary to popular belief, many Africans forced into slavery in the New World did not arrive here naked. One of the lessor revealed historical secrets is not only of the Africans extensive knowledge of roots, herbs, folklore, and their magio-religious use, but the often unknown fact that the Africans themselves introduced an impressive body of herbs and roots into America and the Islands themselves. These facts are carefully detailed in William Ed Grime's Ethno-Botany of the Black Americans. In his book, he list an extensive and impressive body of herbs indigenous to Africa that were brought to the New World by the enslaved African themselves.

For example, Grimes sites the their use of the Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant):

The Negroes use the leaves for masticatories or in hot packs against lumbago, and in the nephritis. They praise the anticonvulsant attributes. "The root of the plant is regarded as a strong aleiteric probably because it acts as a vomative. The Negroes grind a length of four thumbs, which they stir into warm wine. This remedy produces its effect in exciting vomiting or excessive sweating. Its root which provokes nausea and sometimes vomiting is administered by the Negroes for expelling a stomach poison which has intruded. (Descourtilz 2:206)

One of the most significant introduction by the African was the Ceiba pentandra, (silk cotton tree, wild cotton tree). Grimes writes an extensive history on this most sacred tree, whose roots are considered in West African cosmology to contain the spirits of our "Nuxsuew" most ancient ancestors who taught us to survive before we had our gods/Vodou. Grimes recounts:

By: Mama Zogbe Chief-Hounon Amengansie "Voodoo-hoodoo man" "Papa" (great grandfather of Mama Zogbe) Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana Traditional ritual “fetish” market in Togo. The practice of folk magic known as Hudu or “Hoodoo” by the enslaved Africans in the Diaspora is  as old as Africa herself.

Magic powders are very numerous. One kind when blown against a door or window, causes it to fly open, no matter how securely it may be fastened; another, when thrown upon the footprints of an enemy, makes him mad; a third, used in the same day, neutralizes the evil effects of the second; and a fourth destroys the sight of all who look upon it.”

A.B. Ellis. The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of The Slave Coast of West Africa(1965 pg. 99:94).

Above, various forms of “tricks,” used for protection against envy, jealously; or to bring good fortune. These are considered “simple tricks,” and are either made in mass quantity and sold, or can be tailored and empowered to meet peculiar the needs of an individual.

"Hoodoo" and "Rootwork" in New World Afro-Traditions

Hoodoo’s Ancient African Origins

In Kumasi, Ghana, an African traditional priest sits behind a pile of ingredients, including tree bark, roots, chameleons, heads of crocodiles, birds and a turtle shell. These items are then brewed in pots over an open flame, to produce lotions, balms and medicines for healing and protection.

These doctors were later known in the American Diaspora as “Hoodoo, conjurers, root or hoodoo doctors.  Most of the Diaspora trusted and relied exclusively on these doctors before being forced into the national healthcare system.


William Ed Grime's Ethno-Botany of the Black Americans, sites the use of the Hyptis suaveolens (spikenard) by an African "rootwomen" who introduced the plant from Africa as a cure for smallpox. Grime's states:

“The Negro healers carefully pick them for their medical preparations. I have never seen it used other than exteriorly (by mouth). [African] planters given a decoction of lemons, sugar, and a little spirit of vitriol, and then added an oily spirit made from this plant and give it to drink to the Negroes to drive out the small-pox.

All Negroes firmly believe the being of a God, upon whose goodness they rely, and whose powers they adore. While they have no fear of death, and never taste food without offering libation. Even untutored children of Africa are so struck with the majesty of its appearance, that they designate it the "godtree", and account it sacrilege that to injure it with an axe; so that not infrequently, not even with the fear of punishment will induce them to cut it down.

Hoodoo: An Ancient African & Afro-diaspora Tradition




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West African Gbo “fetish priest” in Batakari jacket. Adorned with “gris-gris” amulets/talismans, known in “Hoodoo” and “mojos & hands.” Many Africans enslaved in America were Muslims. Known as “Awussa,” the Muslims until the present, are known to make the most powerful gris-gris. in Africa.

" Since the name even of a person, should fall into bad hands, may be used to the detriment of the bearer, of course anything that has belonged to a man, especially anything that has formed part of or has come out of his saliva, or the feces, can be used for a similar purpose. Some nail-parings that belonged to a man recall that man to the mind of the native; and the subjective connection, which was terminated when those parings were cut, is still also unbroken; and that anything that is done to them will be felt by the body to which they belongs. Hence, it is usual for pieces of hair and nails to be carefully buried or burned, in order that they may not fall into the hands of sorcerers; and even the kings' saliva is carefully gathered-up and hidden or buried. "

Bochio image skillfully constructed to provide protection.