Benin: Ouidah for the Vodoun Celebration

Benin: Ouidah for the Vodoun Celebration


After I published about the Fête du Vodoun the other day I understood that I never ever really described what it is. A legal holiday held every January 10 in Benin given that the 1990 s, it is a day for Beninois to commemorate– and to show the outdoors world– the Vodoun faith practiced by a big portion of the nation (I have actually seen quotes varying from 20-60%).

According to this useful 2012 short article from the New york city Times(that still proves out to my experience in 2019),

In spite of the efforts of Christian missionaries, this ancient belief system still has countless followers along West Africa’s previous Servant Coast, from Ghana to the Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria, however particularly in Benin. A succession of dictatorships reduced vodun after self-reliance, however in 1996 Benin’s democratic federal government formally decreed vodun a faith, and since, thousands have actually freely practiced it.

The Fête du Vodoun is, in impact, a program of pride in practices, beliefs, and a culture that sustained in spite of unlimited efforts to clean it out. Though celebrations happen all over the nation, the peak remains in Ouidah, which is thought about the body and soul of Vodoun. It is around Ouidah that Vodoun initially established centuries back.

I showed up there on the night of January 9 after hesitantly leaving the Allada celebration far earlier than I wished to. Right away after signing in to a charming BnB simply outdoors town, the owner informed me that there would be an event in the spiritual forest that night at 8pm. It was for residents and not travelers, however we would be allowed for a little charge. I was likewise informed that the next day’s activities would begin at 7am when the Vodoun priest would lead a procession to the beach where the primary celebration would be held. The turn-around time did not sound fantastic to me, however I signed on for all of it due to the fact that I remained in “yes to whatever” mode.

So 6 visitors at the BnB (an American male, 2 German females, a Dutch couple, and I) packed into a taxi, clown-car design, and headed to the forest. When we arrived we understood that it was ALL travelers and not one regional individual other than for individuals really doing the event. In reality, when the person outside the entry invited us, he described that the night’s activities had actually been produced specifically for immigrants, to present us to Vodoun in a manner that we would not see the next day. Ah well.

The very first thing we did upon getting in the spiritual forest was to ceremonially clean our hands in a manner in which yet once again advised me of Jewish customs (see the other day’s post). Next, we headed to a cleaning where a group of guys were drumming. The commentator informed us that we would be taking part in a filtration event, after which we might make a dream at the spiritual tree. He repeated a number of times that the desire ought to be a favorable one as this was an uplifting event.

The primary step was to take our shoes off and stall as a male sprinkled water over our heads and necks, sort of like a baptism. Then we beinged in a semi-circle and viewed a fire dancer. It was all really tranquil and certainly uplifting. And after that things deviated …


One male held a squawking chicken by the legs and began swinging it around another male like the fire dancer had actually been making with his balls of fire. The chicken was moving so quickly that it could not make anymore noise. My heart headed out to that bad chicken and I was really alleviated when the swinging stopped. However then our interpreter described that the chicken was going to make the rounds to each one people, taking in all of our bad energy into its own body prior to being compromised in order to release all the negativeness.

The male walked around the circle individual by individual and, holding the chicken by the legs, he waved it up and down our bodies while stating a necromancy, and after that he touched the forehead of the chicken (which had actually gone back to fearfully squawking) to each of our own foreheads. This was not enjoyable. In the picture listed below, what appears like that lady’s hair is really part chicken. Do not believe my germaphobic self wasn’t distractedly questioning what sort of unusual bird illness might be sent to people by doing this.


Once the chicken had actually taken in everybody’s bad energy, the male leading the event kneeled on a mat with an altar on it and did a couple of routines including prayers, gin, candle lights, and rolling cowrie shells. IMG_5463

Then he got the chicken, at which point I gritted my teeth and hoped that it would be a fast and pain-free death like the sacrifice the day in the past had actually appeared to be. The chicken squawked maniacally, and I closed my eyes simply as the male’s hands entered into snapping position. The bird went peaceful, I heard a real snapping noise, and after that the squawking launched once again, much more desperately then prior to. Then I heard another breeze, followed by more squawking, and another breeze, and another. It seemed like this occurred 4 or 5 times prior to the bird lastly passed away. I was heartsick and frightened by this chicken’s suffering, and I began thinking of how meaningless life should be if it is so non reusable. A lot for an uplifting event. I seemed like all the unfavorable energy had actually gone straight from the dead bird into my soul. Suffice it to state, there become part of Vodoun I am not so crazy about.

I attempted providing myself a philosophical pep talk about cultural relativism and my function as an observer and not a judge, however it didn’t assist much. By the time it was my rely on make my desire at the spiritual tree (after another round of ritualistic hand cleaning), I was a little deflated. According to directions, I approached the tree, laid my hands on the palm-oil covered fabric surrounding the bark, made my desire quietly, and hoped that my insufficiently favorable energy would not screw it up.

Now let’s quick forward to the next early morning at the Vodoun priest’s home. When we showed up, we were permitted to peak in on an audience that the king and Vodoun priest were having with a lot of essential guys.


In the yard of the substance, on the other hand, various Vodoun sects were organized together, singing, preparing their accoutrements, and usually waiting on the Vodoun priest to kick things off. Obviously there is no set time; the Vodoun priest takes his orders from the divinities and they assist him in the minute. Back to that New york city Times short article:

Vodun professionals praise a pantheon of gods and lower divine beings that occupy things varying from stones to waterfalls. They think that the spirits of their forefathers stay amongst them, and they use talismans, or “fetishes” like dried animal parts, for spiritual and physical restoration in addition to for security versus spells cast by malicious sorcerers.

When the procession lastly began, its very first stop prior to the beach was the altar of among the divinities, where a short routine occurred prior to everybody carried on. Things to keep in mind in the photos listed below: the king is being brought in a throne covered with the blue canopy. I had actually seen a 200 or 300 year-old one that looked similar to it at the museum in Abomey


Likewise, the male holding the bell is dressed like a female. He became part of a group of adepts who were all worn by doing this, with overstated poufy skirts and huge earrings and lockets. According to the amateur guide I asked, they are disciples of a particular divinity and when they enter into a hypnotic trance due to the fact that the divinity has actually had them, they use the lady’s clothing. IMG_5568

At this moment the crowd was massive, with everybody following the king’s throne through the streets of town.


The 2nd stop remained in the Temple of the Python (which is where I took the picture with the snake twisted around my neck the next day). Here’s what the New york city Times short article needs to state about the temple (it’s actually better at providing the truths than I am):

The temple [is] a concrete structure with a clay roofing. 5 actions led down to a pit where a minimum of a hundred snakes lay in twisted stacks. The handler got a five-foot-long python and proffered it to me. I fidgeted as it tightened itself around my neck, yet the snake was remarkably docile, and the priest guaranteed me I ‘d be great. … Vodun followers relate to pythons as symptoms of the snake god Dangbe. “We let them out of the temple during the night, so they can roam through the town,” the priest stated. “They consume chickens, mice, and after that they return.”


From there, everybody got in cars and trucks or on motorcycles to head to the beach, where the celebration was a a lot more enormous affair than I had actually prepared for. Arrayed around a main bandstand and sandy location were 3 long canopies with numerous chairs beneath, offering a (really little) reprieve from the 95 degree heat. Behind the bandstand, the Door of No Return– a big stone arch memorializing the millions who were shackled and delivered to the Americas– stood guard to the procedures.

I when again had actually a really blocked view, and I when again chosen that to getting heat stroke and/or using up more than my reasonable share of area as a non-Vodoun professional. I missed out on the majority of what occurred on phase, however it didn’t matter. That appeared to be scheduled for more exhibition-style efficiencies of 5 or 10 minutes each, while in every corner of the arena (all of which I might see relatively well), unscripted dances, hypnotic trances, drumming, dancing, strutting, boardwalks, and events were going on at the exact same time– and they were a lot more remarkable.

The females listed below were blowing whistles and noisemakers while one lady pretended to movie the crowd with a cardboard electronic camera.


This lady, on the other hand, circled around the crowds while thrusting her hips so that her phony penis went up and down appropriately.IMG_5629

Remarkably, while there were lots of guys impersonated females, she was the only lady I saw impersonated a male (though there was a male dressed like a female however with a huge penis hat on his head, which you will see in the videos at the bottom of the post).


In the picture listed below, a male dressed like a female brings what appears like a set of wings or horns. He moves his shoulders backward and forward so that the wings/horns make nearly a whacking movement. I saw this over and over once again, and was informed that this generally shoos the fiends away. (You can see the movement in among the videos listed below.)


At a specific point, I chose to stroll onto the beach behind the camping tents and was shocked to see that there were all way of events and joviality taking place there, too.


I captured the really tail end of an event in which the king decreased to the water with a contingent dressed all in white to do some sort of routine in the water. It advised me of pictures of Gullah females worn all-white and standing on the beach in the movie, “Children of the Dust.” The Gullah were given the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry as servants from West Africa, and they kept a great deal of their African customs. I was thinking of this– and about the other striking resemblances in between what I saw in Benin and what I saw in Cuba at the Callejon de Hamel, and what I learn about Mardi Gras in New Orleans– as I strolled back into the celebration location and approximately the Door of No Return. The main part of the celebration was ending, and crowds of individuals followed the king as he ignored the beach and gone through the Door of No Return on his method back to town. To belie the despondence and finality of the monolith’s name because method seemed like such an effective and poignant sign of the durability of the human spirit in basic, and of the West African individuals and diaspora in specific. IMG_5692

… Annnnddd that’s a wrap for tonight. I have actually once again chosen to cut things much shorter than prepared, due to the fact that they are getting far longer than prepared. &#x 1f642; I’ll inform you everything about the Revenant– my preferred part of the Vodoun celebration, Benin, my journey, and perhaps all of my life– in a future installation. (Till then, videos from the non-Revenant part of the celebration remain in the playlist listed below.)