Voodoo, a traditional religion on the Gulf of Guinea Coast
All along the coast of Benin and Togo, Voodoo, an animist religion, gathers a lot of followers together. Passed down by the ancestors, it is still practiced with fervor today. The religious experience is much richer and more complex than westerners can imagine. These voodoo practices are not a form of black magic. To millions both here and abroad Voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives. In a village we join in a Voodoo ceremony: The frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the followers help to invoke the voodoo spirit who takes possession of some of the dancers who fall into a deep state of trance. Traditional healers treat illnesses with local herbs and also by offering sacrifices to the numerous fetish altars that fill their courtyard. The God “Fa” is an esoteric divinity consulted by people to solve their everyday big or small life issues. A fetish priest interprets the answers to the listening adept. Each year, January 10th is a special day in in Benin. Everybody celebrates the ancestral cults..
In particular, on January 10th, all the Voodoo’s adepts meet in Ouidah. A long procession of the adepts, some by foot, some by motorbike, some by taxy brousse, moves to the Door of Non Return. All are dressed in traditional costumes , white is the dominant colour along with the colourful beads. The festival has its peak with the arrival of the Dagbo Houno, the chief feticheur of Ouidah. Dances, libations, masks (some official speech) feature the morning.
The first part of the festival ends at about 15h00 and then it continues in the city. Peoples are never tired to exalting their voodoos. All of them reach a large square where the Eguns masks come togheter. Masks come for dancing, chasing away the bad spirits , and playing with people like a kind of “corrida”.
In the evening Ouidah is exhausted but not yet fully satisfied. The festival goes on in the depths of the courtyards, waiting to meet again the next year so renewing the faith in Voodoo.
Gelede, Traditional Festival of the Fon and Yoruba people in South Benin
Gelede is a cult dedicated to Mother Earth. It is celebrated by the whole community to promote fertility of both the people and the soil. Each mask is sculpted and represents a different character but only the initiates know the true nature and secrets of those symbolic characters. The masks are brightly painted and move like puppets linking myths and moral stories through mime. It is both educational and quite hilarious. The delighted crowd laugh and clap their hands as they watch in appreciation. It is a fascinating mix of street theatre and magical theatre.
Egun, traditional Celebration of the Fon and Yoruba people in South Benin
Egun masks represent the spirits of the deceased and according to the locals; they “are” the deceased. The men wearing the masks representing Egun are initiates of the cult. Dressed in brightly multicolored clothing, they emerge from the forest and form a procession through the streets of the village, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares to get too close. You don’t want the Egun to touch you because if he does; there is a danger of death, so watch out! Some people touched by the Egun immediately collapse but fortunately they recover instantly. When they arrive, the masks perform a kind of bull fight which is designed to scare the crowd but instead is greeted with bursts of laughter!
Zangbeto, traditional Celebration of the Fon in South Benin
The Zangbeto mask is very tall and covered with colored straw. It represents wild non human spirits (the forces of nature and of the night that inhabited the Earth before human beings). The mask wearers belong to a secret society and keep their identity hidden as the non-initiated cannot know who they are. When Zangbeto comes out, it is a big important event for the village. Its performance guarantees protection against bad spirits and malicious people. The spinning movement of the mask symbolizes the spiritual cleaning of the village and Zangbeto also performs miracles to prove its powers.