The Spirits Known as ‘Zangbeto’ That Safeguard African Villages

Law and order runs a bit differently in Benin, Togo, and parts of Nigeria. Instead of cop cars patrolling neighborhoods, villages of the Ogu people have their own way of keeping streets safe. They have Zangbeto, vodoun spirits which act as judge, jury, and executioner.

What are they?

Videos of Zangbeto have surfacing online in recent years. Western forums all ask the same question: Is Zangbeto real or fake? When you look at the videos, you don’t really know what to make of it.


Zangbeto in a Benin village. Photo: Cora Unk Photo/Shutterstock


Zangbeto is a Gun word (language of the Ogu people) meaning “men of the night.” Essentially, they are supernatural guardians who protect communities from natural and supernatural forces. These spirits know if someone has stolen, cast evil spells, murdered or otherwise harmed the innocent. Because of their formidable nature, believers do not dare mess around.

Once summoned by individuals in a cult dedicated to it, Zangbeto patrol villages mainly at night to find the perpetrators. If caught and unrepetent, the Zangbeto will curse this individual and make their lives hell by way of justice.


Bringing a Zangbeto into the mix is managed only by this special cult that summons it, pays tribute, and makes sure no one interferes in the ritual. The cult consists of mostly males, with a few women. Those who wish to join need to undergo a vetting process. They need to be of good character and able to keep secrets. The cult leads the Zangbeto around and prevents people from touching them.

The cult organizes the Zangbeto’s appearance at events like funerals or for prominent guests.


Although they are spirits, Zangbeto manifest themselves in colorful costumes as they move and dance throughout the village. These cone-shaped costumes are made of raffia palm leaves that are dyed in reds, greens, yellows, purples and browns. The cones dance, twirl, and can do acrobatic tricks.

Before you think there’s someone inside, think again. The cult members assemble the whole thing in front of everyone, from putting the thin wooden frame together to putting the leaves over it. They do this for onlookers to believe.

After the ritual, the cult members disassemble the structure to show that there is no one inside. Sometimes, people hear a frightening voice coming from the object.


Zangbeto. Photo: weecho/Flickr


The Zangbeto performs miracles for the crowds and can make objects and animals appear out of nowhere. Skeptics believe that practitioners control it remotely somehow or manage to conceal someone inside.

But traveler Chris Stance, who witnessed the tradition, said questioning is equal to blasphemy so few dare to challenge it.

This tradition dates back centuries. English journalist Stuart Butler, who traveled throughout Benin and witnessed this tradition, states, “Zangbeto evokes a power that is said to have inhabited the earth long before the appearance of man…”

Some locals say that Zangbeto are actually the spirits of ancestors who give back to current generations and protect them.

Annual festival

With the Zangbeto’s permission, the Ogu have used it to instil fear in rival tribes. The Zangbeto were vital in psychological warfare. Nowadays, they are mostly around to maintain sacred traditions, for law enforcement, and even entertainment. Recently, the Ogu have used the Zangbeto in environmental efforts to protect local mangroves, fishing spots, and forests.

In an article for Voice of America, a village leader in Benin warned, “If you go into the forest, you will be punished by the laws of our talisman…he is feared.”

If you wish to see it for yourself, Zangbeto has its own nine-day festival every July or August in Badagry, Nigeria.

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.