Once stigmatized, traditional religions and voodoo have gained widespread acceptance in the West African nation of Benin. An annual voodoo festival, officially recognized by the government that once banned the practices, attracts thousands of practitioners and curious visitors from as far away as Europe and America.

A group of drummers beats out a rhythm as participants in a traditional ceremony sing and dance on the beach as part of Benin's National Voodoo Day in the coastal town of Ouidah.

The festival, which has gained the official recognition of the government in Cotonou, aims to promote voodoo and traditional religions in the West African nation.

Though 65 percent of Benin's population believes in voodoo, the practice has historically been the target of discrimination and was even, at one point, subject to a government imposed ban.

This is changing. The festival has been a national holiday for a decade and this year delegations from neighboring Togo and Ghana are represented. Tourists from as far away as the United States are in attendance and the festival has gone global.

"I think it is incredible. It is very interesting. The spontaneous dancing and singing, it is just a great sight," said one American tourist on a trip through West Africa, who has come from California and struggles to be heard above the ever-present drumming.

Other visitors, like Marcel from The Netherlands with a deeper curiosity in the religion, come specifically for the festival.

"So, I saw a few things already, but only on TV, on National Geographic," he said. "But I am walking around, and some things I recognize, other things I do not."

Organizers and participants reject the negative image often associated with voodoo. They stress the religion is a celebration of natural and spiritual forces that, they say, are responsible for all life.

Peace is a recurring theme at National Voodoo Day.

In an address given at the ceremony, Benin's traditional kings call for peace as the country enters the period leading up to presidential elections scheduled for March. Organizers of the event announced attendance of around 10,000. Participants came from as far away as Brazil, Haiti, and Guadeloupe.