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Close Up of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox

Close Up of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox

Africa Stock Photos: This is a statue of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox. It is part of the CDC’s Global Health Odyssey (GHO) collection of artifacts. A uniquely carved wooden figure, it is adorned with layers of meaningful objects such as monkey skulls, cowrie shells, and nails. Donated in 1995 by Ilze and Rafe Henderson, it was created by a traditional healer who made approximately 50 Shaponas as commemorative objects for the CDC, WHO, and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication

Smallpox was thought to be a disease foisted upon humans due to Shapona’s “divine displeasure”, and formal worship of the God of Smallpox was highly controlled by specific priests in charge of shrines to the God. People believed that if angered, the priests themselves were capable of causing smallpox outbreaks through their intimate relationship with Shapona. Suspecting that the priests were deliberately spreading the viral disease, the British colonial rulers banned the worship of Shapona in 1907; however, worshiping the deity continued with the faithful paying homage to the God even after such activities were prohibited.

Keywords: Africa, Africans, Smallpox, superstition, smallpox, gods, idols, statue