Ouidah International Voodoo Festival in Benin

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin

Taking part into the Ouidah International Voodoo festival in Benin is certainly a unique experience. From every point of view.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin

On 10th January every year (but always check in place, never forget we are in Africa so everything yardstick is absolutely unlike ours) in Ouidah, in Benin, the International Voodoo Festival takes place.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin

This event attracts people from all over the world, both from the whole Benin where voodoo is still alive and a part of the local culture, and from the many overseas countries like Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti and the Caribbean in general: they are tied to this place due to that thin and remote (but never forgotten) thread of the salves’ transportation to America.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves and the door of no return

Arrive to Ouidah for the International Voodoo Festival

Along the Benin main line from north to south you can see lorries loaded of all sorts of things.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves and the door of no return

In this period cotton is taken southwards, towards the coast, to be shipped and exported. The quantity is incredible. Full roads, full parking, cotton flying everywhere.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin markets

You enter the voodoo areas: the International Voodoo Festival takes places in the most active heart. Here Voodoo practically embraces every religion.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin markets and fetishes

You realize it by the signs on people’s faces: they have very complicated rituality and meaning which vary according to the area. It’s impossible to understand them all and explain them here!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin markets and fetishes

Fetishes markets you’ll run into in the Voodoo villages are really many. I mean real markets, not those ones for tourists organized in the great centres or in the capital, which even keep their charm and have the great advantage to be photographed without a pain in the neck!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin markets and fetishes

The locals go to these markets and buy all sorts of things. We learnt the meaning of flags and fetishes, colours and practices, odd ceremonials and signs and symbols you run into in remote places in the middle of the countryside.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes in the countryside

The Voodoo symbols you run into in the middle of the fields and on the secondary roads are many.

White people are strictly forbidden to close to and if you want to take some photographs you have to do it very quickly and before they can see you.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Unfortunately they are a bit complicated areas for the white tourists.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Here the relationship with white people, tourism and money is very complicated and difficult, more than in other parts of Africa. But let this considerations for the next time.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

A real Voodoo fetishes market

We arrive after kilometres and kilometres of dusty and uneven roads surface, without any indications, to a village where there’s a very big market, one among those villages you don’t even find on Google Maps!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

We join the frain. Our driver stay to check the jeep.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

A nice boy, for nothing invasive, accompanies us trying to speak a bit of English. I don’t know if here they have ever seen tourists and white tourist. They observe us with a bit of mistrust.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

It’s one among the most interesting and authentic places. The voodoo fetishes stalls are incredible.

The fetishes stalls are incredible! #Benin #vodoo Click To Tweet

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

They don’t want photos and sell all sorts of dead animals, dried and putrefied, big and small, turtle’s shells, insects, birds, mice, chameleons, rattles, dolls, pins and gooseflesh gadgets…and a lot of objects we don’t even understand the meaning and the origin.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Yeah! There are also the dolls pierced with pins so common in the collective imaginary and they are really very bad!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

The border between Togo and Benin

At some point we reach the river bank bordering Togo and Benin.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin border river between togo and benin

The scene is very particular and fascinating: really many people, the canoes taking people and goods back and forth, on the stalls everything is sold, bright colours and intense smells. An incredible coming and going of canoes among the waterlilies!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin border river between togo and benin

I observe these stalls, I try to take some photographs and I try to understand everything is around me. Fabulous in its extemporaneousness!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin border river between togo and benin

But I cannot help to think about the usual “zoo effect”, the feeling of living here, as well I cannot help to think about the huge energies these people lavish with voodoo and with these traditions. How many lives could be saved whether they were use for medicines and hospitals!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin border river between togo and benin

But my mental lucubration last less!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

The inevitable policeman sees us and points us. I have talked to you before about how the corruption is spread and annoying.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

He makes us call by a guy, he doesn’t even move, we have to go near him. Who wants to pretend nothing! Well! It’s better not to look for trouble. Nothing dangerous never happened to us, but we had very often the bad feeling the situation could be degenerate in a minute…like when we found ourselves surrounded by about fifteen boys with a machete.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin improbable dances

But what happens after is a parallel reality…or maybe is the normality that I persist not to consider as like that! The policeman sends the child away badly and starts to discuss with us. He doesn’t speak English, of course. The discussion becomes endless and exhausting.

In #Benin #passports NEVER have to be given to whoever asks for them, even though it is in… Click To Tweet

He wants our passports: it’s a common practice, but here you never have to give the passports to whoever isn’t authorized to ask for them, neither if it’s the police or other uniforms. The won’t give them back to you unless you give them very high amounts you will be forced to pay. We tell him they are in the car so there our driver will think about it.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves and the door of no return

So the policeman once got that he won’t get money, goes on and he forbids us to stay there in the market: we cannot see it, we have to go away immediately, but not alone. One among his appointee taken at the moment will accompany us to our car.

We are definitely angry in front of these abuses of power….but we cannot do nothing. We are guests and they make laws!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin improbable dances

We walk slowly to enjoy still a bit this place, even if our mood isn’t one of the best. We reach our jeep making our way through all sorts of charlatans (properly advised in advance by our companion), who improvise ridiculous dances with the only aim to extort money from us.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin sounds and colours cacophony

We are quite annoyed. We get on the car and we leave without paying the bribe, while our companion protests angry: he has to take the money to the policeman! Only the cleverness and the place’s knowledge of our Jolinako Eco Tours driver solve the situation. At the end we left unharmed!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin sounds and colours cacophony

But it’s a shame not be able to camouflaging ourselves a bit better to observe this life in its own normality. To us it’s absolutely impossible to understand it, but approach this cacophony of sounds and colours, smells (often unpleasant) and objects beyond description, even for less, it was really particular ad interesting!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin sounds and colours cacophony

Ouidah International Voodoo Festival

But let’s come back to the Ouidah Voodoo International Festival.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves’ route

It’s an event attracting apprentices from all over the world and onlookers like us who find themselves hereabouts. It’s an event to watch and…enough!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Comments and considerations cannot be expressed!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves and the door of no return

First of all, the location of the International Voodoo Festival is creepy. Everything takes place around the door of no return: it’s the door crossed by slaves before transportation to Americas, the place many participants come from.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin salves and the door of no return

There are many of them on these beaches in the Gulf of Guinea: our mind cannot help to try to imagine what happened in the old days and the level of suffering and desperation.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin temple of python

The places of the International Voodoo Festival are moving. The slaves chosen went for the last time to the Temple of Python to pray, then a ceremonial of turns around the holy tree which aimed to make forget forever about the place they come from and where they will have never again returned to.

The places of the rituals where #slaves would have forgotten where they left from. #benin #vodoo Click To Tweet

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves’ route

Then 4km under the scorching sun (here it’s really scorching beyond every imagination!) to walk and reach the beach, the “great hole” where the sick and the dead were thrown, and the beach where the door of no return was crossed and people embarked.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

We don’t have even the time to think about all this and settle these thoughts. People continue to arrive on foot, by motorcycle, by car and by every possible and imaginable mean.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Adults and children, everyone with their own very colourful clothes. It’s already very hot, really, really very hot.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

We are swallowed up by people, by princes, by kings and queens of the international Voodoo Festival. By noise, by sounds, by rhythmic music, by percussions, by colours.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Here Voodoo is considered a good practice and embraces transversally all religions.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

It’s curious to see Christians, Muslims and Animists practicing Voodoo. I don’t know well whether consider it a very good example of integration or simply a mixed big melting pot!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin salves and the door of no return

Dances, trance and percussions at the International Voodoo Festival

It’s incredible how for them this International Voodoo Festival is whole true and real. They believe it, it’s not a recital for tourist like I thought before to arrive here to the International Voodoo Festival, even better….maybe for the first time the white people are finally quite ignored.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

To take photographs freely you need to have a pass (about 30$). They leave you in peace if you have got it.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Everything has a price and here usually the price is absolutely out of market!…but you don’t pay the entrance to the festival!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Groups keep arriving always more numerous among shouts and quarrels for chairs and better seats.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

People around us go into a trance, dance, sing, cackle, roll in the sand, drink gin, complete rites, slaughter animals and lick their hot blood spouting.

People going into a #trance, animal sacrifices, blood spouting…this is #voodoo in #benin Click To Tweet

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Yeah, you got it right, it’s useless to read again!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

In front of this scenes I feel sick. It would be easy to abandon oneself to phrases and commonplaces, I don’t deny I have thought all of them. You add the hot weather, the smells, the stink…

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

The International Voodoo Festival ends with the sacrifice of the goat. I shot the video without watching.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

The same applies to the numerous hens. I don’t know if I will ever have the courage to post these videos.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Personal consideration that maybe it’s better not to read!

Once again it’s useless for us to understand or identify oneself. And I say luckily.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

I cannot talk with belief of different culture. I could do it in the name of the politically correct and it would solve probably many criticism to this post.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

But I cannot think that only in the backwardness and in ignorance, in the lack of culture and education, these practices root strongly keeping the population in the misery for benefit of few.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Many other things occur to me thinking about the several devastating scenes I saw during my long on the road.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

Or maybe I am. I cannot be able to enjoy the smile of thousand children around, without think that in a year many of them will be dead when it would be enough an antibiotic to save them.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

I cannot be bale to enjoy the colours and the percussions of a Voodoo rite asking for fortune and richness, without think that it would be enough working to get them.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

I cannot be able to consider the resolutions of the love suffering, among white flags and several fetishes as coloured externalizations of a population, but only as useless and stupid practices.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

What about then the health requests? They are the worst and they give me really intolerance.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

What about the mothers taking their ill children to the Voodoo ladies when it would be enough to take them to the near mission where certainly they can get a box of antibiotics?

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin Valeria with the children

Or what about the mothers themselves that when the rite doesn’t work pester you to you take away their own child and ask you how much you can pay him?

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin children

Here everyone has the mobile phone, the internet connection and they speak French. It’s not impossible to understand a bit what happens outside their borders instead of listening to music only.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

I would have really a lot to say about what I saw and what I was told.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

It’s better to stop. I cannot express certain thoughts and maybe is right like that. I limit myself to observe.

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin slaves’ route

I do this in silence, thanking, once again, to be born, with no merit, in the right and lucky part of the world!

ouidah international voodoo festival in benin fetishes voodoo rites and symbols

 

 

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