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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Dried Dog Heads in Fetish Market

Dried Dog Heads in Fetish Market

Year: 2011, Month: January

Togo > Golfe > Lome

I really hate this image. Every time I look at it, I see the wasted lives it represents. I see the pain and cruelty that has gone into the creation of these items. I see the twisted belief structure that requires items like this for worship. Yet it is a very powerful image, and may bring about the end to such practises. As such it deserves to be shown. Therein lies my dilemma.

What exactly is this horrific image? Where was it taken and what does it represent? Fetish is a belief structure, common in some parts of Africa, that uses the supposed power of certain objects to protect the holder again accident, injury, and other of life's calamities. Fetish Markets can be found at locations throughout the west of Africa, typically Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Benin and Mali. They sell a number of ceremonial items, such as dolls, ritual carvings, strange liquids and powders, and a large variety of dried items such as dried birds and animal heads, horns, legs, and other animal parts. These items are believed to have links to certain spirits that if worshipped in the correct manner will bestow great power on the holder.

A visit to any Fetish Market will reveal a stomach-churning array of dried animals. To the Western visitor, the collection of dried cat and dog heads will be especially hard to observe. Yes, this photograph really shows what you think it does: the dried heads of a number of small dogs and puppies. There were many more similar items on sale at the market, and this photograph is just one of a number that I took there. This practise is undoubtedly gruesome and horrific to most people, and many may ask if it is it right for the traveller, passing through West Africa, to visit these markets or for the photographer to document them? The markets provide a gruesome display of animal parts, and it could be argued that by visiting these markets, the traveller is simply encouraging and prolonging the practise.

However, I feel that even if the traveller did not visit these places, and buy the ritual dolls and carvings made especially for his custom, the markets would none the less continue, as the real trade is in the items that the traveller will not buy: the gruesome items needed in the continuance of this belief structure, imposed by conmen on the simple and gullible in the poorest of societies. Only by international awareness and outrage in the continuance of these practices is there any chance that attitudes may change, and only by the exhibition of photographs like this one can this awareness start, and be maintained. I therefore feel that it is of vital importance that such images are shown to as wide an audience as possible, in the hope that one day, in the not too distant future, there may be no further need of them.

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