Gris-gris (talisman)

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A West African Tuareg gris-gris

Gris-gris (/ˈɡrˌɡr/, also spelled grigri, and sometimes also "gregory" or "gerregery")[1] is a Voodoo amulet originating in West Africa which is believed to protect the wearer from evil or bring luck,[2] and in some West African countries is used as a purported method of birth control. It consists of a small cloth bag, usually inscribed with verses from an ancestor and a ritual number of small objects, worn on the person.

The contents of a Fula gris-gris.


Although the exact origins of the word are unknown, some historians trace the word back to the Yoruba word juju meaning fetish.[3] An alternative theory is that the word originates with the French joujou meaning doll or play-thing.[3] It has otherwise been attributed in scholarly sources to the Mandingo word meaning "magic".[1]


The gris-gris was incorporated from the Dagomba people and it was originally associated with Islamic traditions. The Dagomba people led the Kingdom of Dagbon and several neighboring states that span present-day northern Ghana and parts of surrounding countries. The Dagbon kings have been Muslim since the 17th century.[4][5] Originally the gris-gris was adorned with Islamic scripture and was used to ward off evil djinn, evil spirits or bad luck. Historians of the time noted that they were frequently worn by non-believers and believers alike, and were also found attached to buildings.[4]


The practice of using gris-gris, though originating in West Africa, came to the United States with enslaved Africans and was quickly adopted by practitioners of Voodoo.[6]

However, the practice soon changed, and the gris-gris were thought to bring black magic upon their "victim". Slaves would often use the gris-gris against their owners and some can still be seen adorning their tombs.[6] During this period, there were also reports of slaves cutting, drowning or otherwise manipulating the gris-gris of others in order to cause harm.[7] Although in Haiti, gris-gris are thought to be a good amulet[8] and are used as part of a widely practised religion; in the Cajun communities of Louisiana, gris-gris are thought to be a symbol of black magic and ill-fortune.[9]

In spite of the negative connotations of gris-gris, so-called Gris-Gris doctors have operated in the Creole communities of Louisiana for some centuries and are looked upon favourably by the community.[10] In the 1800s, gris-gris was used interchangeably in Louisiana to mean both bewitch and in reference to the traditional amulet.[11]

Further uses[edit]

Gris-gris are also used in Neo-Hoodoo which has its origins in Voodoo. In this context, a gris-gris is meant to represent the self.[12]

Contemporary use[edit]

According to a 1982 survey, gris-gris were one of the top three methods of contraception known to women in Senegal. All three were traditional methods ("abstinence, roots and herbs, and charms ['gris-gris']"). Over 60% of women reported having knowledge of such traditional methods; modern means of contraception were not well known, with the pill the best-known of those, a little over 40% of women reporting knowledge of it.[13] Gris-gris are worn by a wide strata of society by everyone "from wrestlers to soldiers to housewives, and can feature anything from monkey to snake to mouse."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Elton Anderson, Jeffrey (2002). Conjure in African-American Society (PhD thesis). University of Florida.
  2. ^ Knight, Jan (1980). A-Z of ghosts and supernatural. Pepper Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-560-74509-5.
  3. ^ a b "Gri-gri". The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World. Harper Element. 2006. p. 265.
  4. ^ a b Handloff, Robert E. (June–September 1982). "Prayers, Amulets, and Charms: Health and Social Control". African Studies Review. 25 (2/3). African Studies Association: 185–194. doi:10.2307/524216. JSTOR 524216. PMID 11614145. S2CID 45641515.
  5. ^ African Muslims in Bondage: Realities, Memories, and Legacies, in Monuments of the Black Atlantic: History, Memory and Politics, Maria Diedrich, Joanne M. Braxton, eds. Hamburg: Lit Verlag, 2004: p. 83}}
  6. ^ a b "Folk Figures". Western Folklore. 7 (4). Western States Folklore Society: 392. October 1948. doi:10.2307/1497852. JSTOR 1497852.
  7. ^ Touchstone, Blake (Autumn 1972). "Voodoo in New Orleans". Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. 13 (4). Louisiana Historical Association: 371–381. JSTOR 4231284.
  8. ^ Fombrun, Odette Roy, ed. (2009). "History of The Haitian Flag of Independence" (PDF). The Flag Heritage Foundation Monograph And Translation Series Publication No. 3. p. 39. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  9. ^ Sexton, Rocky (October 1992). "Cajun and Creole Treaters: Magico-Religious Folk Healing in French Louisiana". Western Folklore. 51 (3/4). Western States Folklore Society: 240–243. doi:10.2307/1499774. JSTOR 1499774.
  10. ^ Deutsch, Leonard; Dave Peyton (Spring 1979). "Cajun Culture: An Interview". MELUS. 6 (1). The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS): 86. doi:10.2307/467522. JSTOR 467522.
  11. ^ Newell, W. W. (1889). "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana". The Journal of American Folklore. 2 (4). American Folklore Society: 44. doi:10.2307/533700. JSTOR 533700.
  12. ^ Lock, Helen (Spring 1993). ""A Man's Story Is His Gris-gris": Ishmael Reed's Neo-HooDoo Aesthetic and the African-American Tradition". South Central Review. 10 (1). The Johns Hopkins University Press: 67–77. doi:10.2307/3190283. JSTOR 3190283.
  13. ^ Goldberg, Howard I.; Fara G. M'Bodji; Jay S. Friedman (December 1986). "Fertility and Family Planning In One Region of Senegal". International Family Planning Perspectives. 12 (4). Guttmacher Institute: 119–120. JSTOR 2947982.
  14. ^ "The traditional mystics going online". BBC News Magazine. BBC. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2024.