At the top of the admittedly not very long list of Lomé tourist attractions looms the Marché des féticheurs or Marché aux fétiches (Fetish Market). The few pages of Lonely Planet West Africa that are dedicated to Togo highlight the unique and pioneer character of the market, which is lauded as the first and biggest of such markets in West Africa, the heart of the fetish religion.
A few words about fetishism – in its second commonly accepted definition, it is the worship of inanimate objects for their supposed magical powers or because they are thought to be inhabited by a spirit. Contrary to what you may think, many animist religions (where inanimate objects, plants and nature are thought to be imbued with souls) were actually born in West Africa and traveled to the Caribbean and other places as a result of the slave trade, where they became affiliated with what we know today as voodoo.
I’m not denying that the market has historic value or even that it may be the object of most interest in Lomé. I still think that it’s not really an attraction – unless for some reason utterly unfathomable to me, you relish the sight and smell of dead, mostly dried animals laid out on the ground, their undulled smell wafting up to you from withering skins in the sticky heat.
And I have my doubts to the market’s authenticity or popularity too. Although it is lauded as the equivalent of a ‘pharmacy’ to which locals turn when in bodily or spiritual distress, it turned out that neither our driver nor our guide, both Lomé natives, had any idea where the market was or how to get there when a fellow taxi tour member insistently coerced us into going there.
My doubts may have been strengthened by the sign below, clearly indicating the market is fodder for tourists
and the fact that there was no one there other than a forlorn tourist couple, sweating through their cargo pants and pretending they were enjoying the tales of folklore while hiding the nauseous expression on their faces.
My other misgivings are related to the fact that supposedly no animals are harmed in the functioning of the market. We were told that animals are found dead from natural causes and brought to the market. I find it hard to believe that there are vast quantities of animals lying around dead, practically intact and ready to be dried (or whatever method of dehydration and preservation they are submitted to). Seeing a cage or two with obviously sickly rats and dying turtles did nothing to quell my skepticism or indeed assuage my growing discomfort. (I’ll spare you these photos in particular).
And if for any reason you are still interested in this experience, perhaps the below photos can convince you to put your feet up at your hotel and sip a cool drink (no ice!) instead. [WARNING – these are not pleasant photos].
It started off innocuously enough, with some animal cadavers mixed in with carved wooden figures and seashells
But quickly became more disconcerting.
OK, if dead animal skins don’t bother you (don’t we all wear leather, after all?), there is no denying the former aliveness of the creatures below:
You’ll have a short break from the sensory delights and be offered a special blessing (and if you resist, you’ll be told it’s only white magic that is being used, so no need to worry):
Then you can go back to a wide selection of animal skulls:
Or other animal hair products:
See? I told you this would have been preferable: