vendredi 15 janvier 2010
Unearthing all things voodoo
KAI NESTMAN/SPECIAL TO COAST REPORTER
Driving down a red-earth, unpaved road with 19 Canada World Youth (CWY) participants jammed into a minivan winding and turning to miss the potholes, we head to Ouidah, the capital of all things voodoo.
Marking the celebration each year on Jan. 10, the people of Bénin commemorate their traditional religion known as voodoo — a religion commonly overshadowed through the Hollywood image of voodoo dolls full of pins.
A number of divinities make up the religion and are specific to different regions and represented in their local languages with a costume and dance. The divinity of the future and the oracle known as Fa, the divinity of thunder known in its local language as Chango, and the divinity of riches and money known as Dan are just a few examples of the variety of voodoo.
At the beach, venders lined the shore around the festivities ready to capture the influx of tourism and even the odd foreigner innocently willing to pay a bit more than the going price, as the more wise barter around for a deal. Sounds of drumming mixed with other instruments and chanting gave life to the dance of each voodoo fetish. Artists set up makeshift galleries to showcase their work, while sunlight and heat beamed down onto the spectators. Dignitaries, local kings and chiefs, and even the president’s wife attended the day-long ceremony.
Located along the coast 90 minutes from my host community of Allada, the national celebration of voodoo took place on the beach and in front of the historical Porte de non Retour (door of no return).
Ouidah is also known for its historical link to the slave trade and as the past major port of trade for the French and Portuguese.
We travelled the route of a slave as we headed through Ouidah making our way to the shore and the Porte de non Retour. The route begins with a slave market known as Place Chacha where the strongest men and women were sold in their last few days in what is now known as Bénin. Along the way is a famous tree where the slaves would circle nine times for men and seven times for women as a symbol to forget the memories of life in Africa before they headed on their last journey to the Americas. The route was bare and full of monuments to mark the terrible history.
With only one week left in Bénin, we are gearing up for our return to Canada. We will host a thank you party in our host community and a final program evaluation before we return to Montréal for a rebound orientation with other Canadian participants.
You can follow my CWY experience as my adventures continue in Allada, Bénin at www.nestman.ca.