Ouidah: the servant trade

Ouidah: the servant trade


Well. We have actually reached the point in my journey when it turns suddenly from the (primarily) life-affirming marvels of Vodoun culture to the despair-inducing scaries of human trafficking. According to the Trans-Atlantic Servant Trade Database, as numerous as 12.5 million individuals were by force delivered from Africa to the New World in between 1501 and1866 Practically 2 countless those individuals embarked from the location around Ouidah called the Bight of Benin, and Ouidah itself was among the busiest servant ports on the African continent. An approximated 12-13 percent of those who boarded the servant ships did not endure the Middle Passage.

These maps from the Database highlight the significant embarkation points and the paths that were followed to the Western hemisphere.

west africa slave ports

slave trade routes

As you can see, the Gold Coast of Ghana was likewise a significant trafficking port. I checked out 2 servant forts while there, a couple of days after leaving Benin. It was a sobering experience, to state the least.


I’ll cover those in a later post, however back to Ouidah in the meantime. I began at the Portugese fort, which has actually been developed into a museum about slavery, however I arrived at 3: 45 believing it closed at 5, and it in fact closes at 4. They would not let me in, so sadly I can’t inform you anything about what’s within. I did, nevertheless, get talked to an outstanding tourist guide who consented to take me to 5 of the 6 stops along the “Path des Esclaves” on his motorcycle. (The 6th stop is the Door of No Return on the beach, which I had actually currently seen.)

The very first stop is Chacha Plaza (listed below), where the servant market utilized to be. Guy, females, and kids were offered under the tree in exchange for products. Then they were taken throughout the street to an iron employee’s workshop, where they were branded with the purchaser’s mark and shackled with chains.


The 2nd action is the Tree of Forgetting. A statue marks the approximate area where servants needed to circle a tree, 9 times if they were male and 7 if they were female, in order to forget their past, where they originated from, and who they were, so that they would end up being docile and would not rebel. There’s sickening poetry because.


It didn’t appear like something Europeans would think in so I asked my guide to clarify and he stated that in reality, it was a king of Dahomey who started the routine. Although a few of the leaders of Dahomey declined slavery and withstood working together with Europeans, this specific king robbed the towns of other neighboring societies and offered everybody recorded to the Portugese. In reality, it was Dahomeans who managed the transportation of servants along the 6 actions of the Path Des Esclaves and after that handed them over to European control at the point of embarkation.

The next stop remains in the town of Zoungbodji, near to the ocean. It is the website of a substance were the servants were kept for approximately 2 months while others were assembled, up until there sufficed to fill a ship complete. They were packed in like sardines and not offered enough to consume or consume. The area was sealed tight and had no windows, so that not even one little bit of light might go into. This was expected to confuse individuals so that they would end up being less defiant, and it was likewise expected to weed out the weak from the strong. The weak would pass away, and the strong would be gotten ready for the light-less, confined, and otherwise dreadful conditions in the hold of the ship.


I can’t remember what portion of individuals who were shackled in fact made it onto the ship, however it was less than half. The others– not just those who had actually passed away in the hut however likewise those who were evaluated too ill or too weak to make the trip– were disposed into a pit that functioned as a common tomb, and buried alive. The area is now marked by a monolith.


The 5th action is the tree of return. Everybody who made it this far alive needed to circle the tree 3 times, in the belief that this would enable their spirits to go back to their homeland upon their deaths. I have no concept why a king who dehumanized individuals in the most harsh and mean method would toss a bone like this to the leaving. Perhaps he hesitated of magnificent retribution by their shared gods? I do not understand.


All I understand is that Ouidah is a complex location– among enormous suffering and likewise enormous charm. Rather of revealing you a picture of the Door of No Return, which I included in a previous post and which celebrates the stretch of beach from which Africans took their last actions on their house soil prior to leaving in boats, I will rather go back to charm … due to the fact that I do not understand about you, however I require a taste buds cleanser after all that heartlessness and anguish.

It’s hard to see in the photo listed below (I was alerted to be discreet so I pointed and clicked rather haphazardly), however a female is on her knees revealing respect for a Vodoun skilled who is had by a spirit. She understands he is had due to the fact that he is using the female’s clothing that I revealed you in the other post, and adepts just use that clothes after they fall under a hypnotic trance.


While the Vodoun Celebration is a one-day affair, the informal celebrations continue for days prior to and after. The tourist guide and I passed 2 various dances en route to the Path des Esclaves, and we circled around back to them later on. I didn’t take any images due to the fact that these were regional events and the guide informed me it would be discredited. I mored than happy to require for factors I will enter into another day.

So, there’s no photographic proof however I will paint an image for you rather: In both cases, individuals collected at the crossway of 2 streets to enjoy and pay aspects to a handful of adepts in hypnotic trance beyond their particular Vodoun temples. At the very first area, a group of females using hairs of beads and matching wax-print material sang and danced to the very same choreography, however they would periodically include their own special flourishes as the spirit actually moved them. Often they circled around a tree over and over once again while singing and dancing, up until they ‘d be panting for breath and need to take a break. Anybody who resolved them got on their knees initially. At the 2nd area, males and kids took turns using a set of those huge red and cream-colored wing things that I saw at the Vodoun Celebration. They’re quite heavy, and I understand this due to the fact that everyone had a hard time to get them over their shoulders when they initially put them on. Then they walked their own spiritual tree while rolling their shoulders so that the fiends could not alight on them.

I stopped at each area for about 10 minutes, and after that I needed to satisfy my taxi at a pre-arranged area in front of an art museum I had actually wished to go to, the Zinzou Gallery. It remains in a magnificently brought back colonial structure.


In the end, I didn’t have time for more than a vigorous walk around the area, however I did see one art piece that I enjoyed.


The artist-in-residence, Pauline Guerrier, had actually set up site-specific work influenced by her time in Benin. The “weavings” above are made from braided hair.

So as you can see, culturally, spiritually, and creatively abundant life goes on in Ouidah in spite of the scaries of parts of its past. That’s the idea I ended my journey to Benin with. The next early morning, we drove throughout the border into Togo.