Tour to Togo and Benin: At the Heart of the Magical
Enjoy a trip in two countries running alongside the Gulf of Guinea, both as tiny as fascinating.
Come and meet with fetish priests, healers and oracles. Attend a fire-dance, initiation rites and ancestral ceremonies, and witness the state of deep trance the adepts of Voodoo can sometimes reach. Voodoo is originally from those countries, this part of the world where beliefs has always remained authentic.
- Duration: 11 days
- Guide: English speaking
IN THE GULF OF GUINEA
Arrival in Lomé (Togo) and transfer to the hotel. Free time to relax.
Our journey will start with a city tour in Lome, the vibrant capital of Togo, and the only African city having been colonized by Germans, British and French. It is also one of few capital cities in the world which sits on the border with another nation (Ghana).
Lome is at the cross roads for different people, trade and cultures, and it remains very cosmopolitan. It is where tradition and modernization meet. These elements have led to the development of a special identity reflected in the life style of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town.
Special attention will be paid to:
- the central market with its famous Nana Benz, women who have concentrated in their hands the market of expensive pagne (=cloths) coming from Europe and sold in all West Africa;
- the colonial buildings in the administrative quarter with a flavor of colonial time;
- the fetish market, where an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions are sold.
From Lome we will move towards the tropical forest surrounding Kpalime, a trade-center, and a town with a colonial past where we will visit the market and the art center.
In the morning, we will go for a long walk in the forest to discover a magic world: the majesty of trees, the cheerful greeting of the people living there, the echoes of animals, the sounds of tam-tams, the green emerald light filtered through the branches.
A local entomologist will explain to us the butterflies and insects native to this forest. He will also initiate us into the art of painting with natural colours.
In the afternoon we discover Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important trade center. Visit of the market and of the arts center.
Moving north we will visit some villages. These populations came originally from the north of the country and have maintained their traditions that have keep them tied to the land of their ancestors.
We will stop to visit weekly markets and will arrive in Sokode late in the afternoon.
In the heart of the village, a great fire lights up the faces of the dancers who start moving on the frenetic rhythm of the drums. The fire dancers, in a state of trance, throw themselves into the embers, grab them with their hands and put them in their mouths; they even run them over their bodies without showing any trace of injury or any sign of pain.
Is it a matter of courage? Willpower? Magic? Such a performance is hard to explain.
Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from fire. We would need to prove it to believe it… and believe it to prove it….
We will meet with the Kabye people: in some villages located at the top of the hills, women make nice traditional clay pots while men are blacksmiths who still work with heavy stones instead of hammers.
When we reach Kante, a track across the Atakora Mountains takes us to the Tamberma people. For self-defence reasons, for centuries this people have taken refuge in the heart of the Atakoras, a land so difficult to access that they could flee from any attack, especially from slave traders from Muslim North Africa. Their strong traditional beliefs are confirmed by the presence of big shrines – of phallic form – at the entrance of their homes. Those fortified dwellings, similar in form to medieval castles, are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. In fact the houses are built by hand, layer after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. With the permission granted to us by the inhabitants we enter their homes to better understand their way of life.
A bit further to the east, we will meet with the Betammaribe (alias Somba) who live in the same natural environment of the Atakora Mountains just like the Tamberma. Similarly they also build nice clay castles however, unlike the Tamberma, they follow a series of very suggestive initiatory rites. Young men between 18 and 20 years of age have their bellies scarified with delicate and complex geometrical patterns, deeply convinced that those scars are the only way to become “real” men.
The Pendjari National Park is an area of 2755 square kilometers in the upper north-western part of Benin. The hills and cliffs of the Atakora make the North-West area one of the most beautiful in Benin and provide a wonderful backdrop to the Pendjari National Park which, despite its remoteness, remains one of the most interesting in West Africa.
The national park is famous for the variety of its wildlife as it is home to some of the last populations of elephants, West African lions, hippopotamuses, buffalos and various types of West African antelopes. The Park is also known for being a paradise for bird watchers.
THE MOUNTAIN OF THE FETISH PRIEST
A nice walk to discover old Taneka villages . These are made up of round houses covered with a conical roof protected at the top by a terra cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiated and by the fetish priests who only cover themselves with a goat skin and always carry a long pipe.
As we wander around, along alleys bordered by series of smooth stones, we may come across half naked men. The Taneka people believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience and a lot of… blood from sacrificed animals.
Once we get to Abomey, we visit the Royal Palace whose walls are decorated with the symbols of the former kings of the Dahomey Kingdom. The Palace hosts a Museum and a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust and human blood. The royal army also included a female troop famous for its boldness and aggressive fighting spirit.
In the afternoon we attend spectacular Gelede dancing masks.
Gelede is at the same time a cult, a secret society and a mask. . Gelede performances recall our western “theatre” where each mask represents a character, often humoristic or ironic. This theatrical aspect of the masks mimicking short stories has the function of educating, not simply entertaining the village. Gelede mask has feminine features but is worn by men dressed up like women and dancing incredible performances: a chorus made up of more than 20 singers dancing in a large circle with two big drums in the middle, the surrounding public, happy and excited, singing along, laughing and clapping hands. Colours dominate the scene with the dancers dressed up in colorful clothes moving around all the time.
Ganvie, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their huts on teak stilts and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. Fishing is their main activity. The village has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Life unfolds each day around the canoes that men, women and children guide with ease using brightly colored poles. It is with these canoes that men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play.
Drive to Ouidah, considered the capital town of African Voodoo. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army during the XVIII century to become one of the main slave ports. Today the city enjoys an Afro-Portuguese architecture and the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid back attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums – a timeless atmosphere very well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. On foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a museum on the history of Ouidah and the slave trade. We end our city tour by following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of “no return” where slaves used to board ships.
AT THE HEART OF THE VOODOO LANDS!
All along the Coasts of Togo and Benin, voodoo is a religion that has been passed on by the ancestors and is still fervently practiced today. Voodoo is a religion passed on by the ancestors and still enthusiastically practiced today. This religion is much richer and more complex than all the European clichés that claim that Voodoo is only a vulgar form of black magic. It is quite the opposite, as Voodoo is a religion that gives meaning to the life of millions of people all over the world. We will go deep into the African “bush” to discover this cult and, in the heart of a remote village, we will attend an authentic Voodoo ceremony. During the ceremony, along with the sound of the drums and the incantatory songs, some Vodun may take possession of the adepts giving way to truly amazing trances.
Arrival in Lomé in the afternoon and free time to relax on the beach or go shopping. Many are the places which can be visited for this purpose and our vehicle will be available to take you around: shops for tribal art and antiques, craftworks, art galleries with contemporary paintings from the “Togolese school” (which start to be quite popular in French and North-American galleries), shops selling “popular” art items such as the colourful “advertising” signs in front of the street hairdressers etc.
In the evening, transfer to the airport.