I have lived in West Africa for close to 15 years now, and apart from visits to the juju and voodoo markets in Ghana and Togo, where one can buy dried chameleons and other ex-living bits for spells and curses, I must say that I haven't been around or involved in many rituals.
Wandering through the arts centre in Accra, you come across various statues and implements that were presumably used for various traditional ceremonies, but we can only use our Western imaginations to surmise what the actual uses were.
To be invited into the secret world of the traditional as an outsider in West Africa is rare indeed. Many times foreigners are invited to watch or participate in events that are rigged up for the very purpose of impressing or intriguing the tourist. There is nothing intriguing in those.
Phyllis Galembo, a widely traveled photographer managed to gain the trust of her subjects across West Africa, and gained access to various ceremonies that have remained shrouded in mystery for centuries. As a result, she has produced a glimpse into a world I can not quite imagine - despite living here!
The photos are taken in Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana and the collection is called West African Masquerade.
The photos are so worth sharing though:
"Created for festivities and ceremonies such as weddings and burials, initiations, chiefs' coronations, and holidays like Christmas and the New Year, the costumes can be worn to disguise anyone, from a grown man or woman to a child. The subjects range from adults to teenagers, but Galembo does not know the identity of the individual beneath each mask. This mystery lies at the heart of her interest in costuming and masking — acts that allow the wearer to become something else, to change gender, or species, or even into spirits."