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Benin: In voodoo country

As soon as we entered Benin, we visited Grand Popo, a peaceful little village by the ocean, with a pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, we couldn’t swim, as the sea currents around this area are really strong and dangerous. Next day, we headed to Possotomé, situated on the shore of Lake Ahémé. Beninese consider this area of having a unique energy…

One of the many settlements built in the lakes of Benin.

One of the many settlements built in the lakes of Benin.

   Benin is the birthplace of voodoo, an ancient religion in this region, which slaves brought with them when transported in Haiti and Cuba. There, it got mixed with Catholicism and this blend was brought back in Benin and Togo by the slave descendants returning to Africa. This much demonised religion is particularly widespread in this region. Even Christians and Muslims believe in voodoo and practice it regularly.

Temple in the sacred forest of Possotomé, where chickens and other animals are being sacrificed during voodoo ceremonies.

Temple in the sacred forest of Possotomé, where chickens and other animals are being sacrificed during voodoo ceremonies.

   The word “voodoo” means “the mystery” and this is indeed a very mystic religion. Anyone can be a believer but no one is allowed to reveal its secrets. The rituals take place in unusual temples, often under the loud beating of drums, something that helps people to come to trance and communicate with the spirits. Believers call on the spirits for protection, good luck but sometimes also for the achievement of malicious ends. Of course, as in any transaction in this continent, either held between men or between men and gods, some kind of reward as for the services of the spirits must be given. The one who is interested takes a prescription from the priest and heads to the market, in order to find the ingredients necessary for the ceremony. They can vary from crocodile skin to eagle claws, monkey head, dried lizards and a bunch of other stuff beyond the wildest imagination…

Heads of monkeys and other animals, fowl feathers, skins and furs, dried lizards and more are being sold as ingredients for the voodoo ceremonies!

Heads of monkeys and other animals, fowl feathers, skins and furs, dried lizards and more are being sold as ingredients for the voodoo ceremonies!

   We also visited the town of Ouidah, from where thousands of slaves were transported to the New World, in order to work at the plantations of the landowners. Through a scenic, off-road route, with the huge waves of the ocean crushing on the shore, we arrived in the chaotic Cotonou, where the traffic on the streets is really dangerous!

Christina is happy to see some tarmac in Benin!

Christina is happy to see some tarmac in Benin!

   There, we were hosted by the amazing family of Omer, the young guy that had also hosted us in Grand Popo. It is a rather well-off family, running a restaurant, with everybody living around the yard behind it. It was rather interesting living for a while at the backstage of an African restaurant. Every afternoon we were watching the preparation of the dishes taking place on small charcoal stoves set in every available space of the backyard. We spent the evenings sitting on small tables on the sidewalk, starring at the traffic while chitchatting in the darkness imposed by the usual power cuts.

The labyrinthine Dantokpa Market in Cotonou.

The labyrinthine Dantokpa Market in Cotonou.

   The capital of the country is Porto Novo, a peaceful town having taken its name by the Portuguese, who in the 16th century established it as a slave trade post. We were hosted there by Jo and Check, two young guys living by the philosophy of the Rastafarians. They escorted us to many intriguing places, one being the Centre Songhai, an institution established in 1985 by a Nigerian monk. Since then they promote the sustainable development, organic farming, recycling and other innovative concepts, barely known at that time even in the West!

This church in Porto Novo has some clear influences from the Brazilian architecture brought in Benin by the slave descendants who returned to Africa. Nowadays it has been turned into a mosque.

This church in Porto Novo has some clear influences from the Brazilian architecture brought in Benin by the slave descendants who returned to Africa. Nowadays it has been turned into a mosque.

   The last place to visit in Benin was Abomey, once being the capital of the Dahomey Kingdom. The tribes of this region were notoriously warlike and blood-thirsty. They practiced human sacrifices and traded war captives as slaves. For the construction of a round wall in a specific temple built in every palace, they would use mud, blood from forty one people they would kill, alcohol, gun powder, gold dust, sea shells, sea water and water from seven streams.

Even the wooden carvings on the doors of the palaces in Abomey show how blood-thirsty the tribes dominating this region were...

Even the wooden carvings on the doors of the palaces in Abomey show how blood-thirsty the tribes dominating this region were…

   We even saw the throne of one king standing on four skulls! Yes, they were actual human skulls… At least, these people could show some compassion. The kingdom’s executioner should decapitate the criminals with one move of his sword, so that the condemned to death would suffer no more. If he would not succeed, he would loose his own head!

 

Here you can watch the video about our trip in Benin:

Soundtracks (music from Benin):
Traditional voodoo music
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou – Minkou E So Non Moin
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou – Se Ba Ho

 

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