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Gris-gris, also spelled grigri, is a voodoo amulet originating in Africa which is believed to protect the wearer from evil or brings luck, and in some West African countries is used as a method of birth control. It consists of a small cloth bag, usually inscribed with verses from the Qur'an and containing a ritual number of small objects, worn on the person.
Although the exact origins of the word are unknown, some historians trace the word back to the African word juju meaning fetish. An alternative theory is that the word originates with the French joujou meaning doll or play-thing.
The gris-gris originated in Dagombha in Ghana and was associated with Islamic traditions. Originally the gris-gris was adorned with Islamic scripture and was used to ward off evil spirits (evil djinn) 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.
The practice of using gris-gris, though originating in Africa, came to the USA with African slaves and was quickly adopted by practitioners of voodoo. 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 masters and gris-gris can still be seen adorning the tombs of some slave owners. During this period, there were also reports of slaves cutting, drowning or otherwise manipulating the gris-gris of others in order to cause harm. Although in Haiti gris-gris are thought to be a good amulet 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. In spite of the negative connotations of gris-gris, so called Gris-Gris doctors have operated in the Cajun communities of Louisiana for some centuries and are looked upon favourably by the community. In the 1800s, gris-gris was used interchangeably in Louisiana to mean both bewitch and in reference to the traditional amulet. 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.
A gris-gris is formed in a small, leather pouch which is usually etched with verses from the Qur'an. Inside the pouch are engravings specially tailored to the wearer. The pouch is then sprinkled with blessed water while an incantation is recited. The ceremony is traditionally conducted over an altar with a burning candle being present. The ingredients of the gris-gris number one, three, five, seven, nine or thirteen. Sometimes stones and other items with occult meanings are added to the pouch. There will often be a doll symbolising the wearer also attached to the pouch.
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 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.