The West African nation of Benin on Thursday held sacrifices and ceremonies for its annual celebration of voodoo, the traditional religion that spread to the Americas with the slave trade.
Benin is considered a voodoo heartland, particularly the city of Ouidah, which was a major slave trading port, and traditional beliefs often mix with Catholicism or other religions.
While authorities in the past had sought to put a stop to voodoo, it is now widely accepted and celebrated as a religion in its own right, and considered a deeply rooted aspect of the region's culture.
Ceremonies were held in various parts of Benin on Thursday, including in the village of Malawi near the commercial capital Cotonou, where a shirtless voodoo priest recited incantations before tearing off the heads of two chickens with his teeth.
"Voodoo is not the incarnation of evil as some try to portray it," Francois Houessou, a local government official, told the crowd of several hundred afterward.
"Voodoo represents Benin's cultural richness and cannot be equated with the devil. Voodoo is happiness, luck, and it helps to protect against evil spirits."
Most of the country's nine million residents are considered animists of some kind, though often in conjunction with other beliefs.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2011, part of his trip included a stop at a Catholic basilica in Ouidah across the road from the Temple of Pythons voodoo centre, which houses a few dozens snakes. The python god Dangbe is worshipped in the region.