Benin

Ouidah International Voodoo Festival

 

 

 

 

 

Occurring every year on January 10, the Voodoo festival commemorates the approximately 60 million people who were forced from their homeland during the African slave trade, transported from port towns on the west coast of Africa.  One such slave port was the town of Ouidah, where today priests, dignitaries, locals and visitors from Africa, the Caribbean and France gather in a festival that lasts for two days.

 

Voodoo originated in the kingdom of Dahomey, now Togo and Benin, and spread to Haiti, Cuba, Brazil and Louisiana by African slaves.  Considered the national religion of Benin, it is still practiced today by 80% of the population.

 

The festival begins with the sacrifice of a goat to the python spirit at the Temple of the Python.  It continues with a 3 km trek from the old slave auction block down the ancient slave road to the harbor by devotees led by the Voodoo pope, who stops to pray at various spots along the way, ending at the Door of No Return.  The party continues at the beach, where celebrations, fueled by free-flowing gin, include druming, singing, traditional dancing, horse racing and magic displays, with followers often entering trance-like states. Devotees, their bodies decorated with local powder and palm oil and often wearing masks, dance to the spirits. Once the official festival is over, the party continues in the city.  Ceremonies and rituals are held in the squares and courtyards, and people wearing highly decorated masks representing the spirits of the dead run around the streets of the city.

 





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