Porto Novo to Lagos

December 18, 2007, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria

The next morning I returned to Cotonou for the visa, which I finally got, then I headed for the station to take a shared taxi to Lagos. After waiting for some hours and watching one taxi driver purposefully leave without me, I realized it was getting late enough in the day that if I still tried going to Lagos, I would arrive there at night, something I really didn’t want to do.

Instead, I got a ride from one of the taxi drivers to a hotel to try again the next morning for Lagos – the drive explained that taxi drivers wouldn’t want to try carrying me over the border due to border control delays. He suggested instead taking a shared taxi to Seme at the border, then crossing alone and picking up a vehicle for Lagos on the Nigerian side of the border.

The border crossing, starting from Cotonou in Benin, itself was daunting. I tried the day before yesterday, but taxi drivers wouldn’t take me, even from the station where such taxis usually depart. After three hours wait, I found out why – tourists take longer to pass through the border, thus slowing the workday of the driver who then may earn less money. The solution the drivers proposed was for me to wake up at 4am to take a shared taxi to Seme at the border, then walk through the border crossing and pick up another taxi on the Nigerian side of the border.

The border crossing was difficult, with the Benin border control trying for a 5,000 CFA bribe which I simply refused to give, so they kept me waiting for awhile. Then, I had to drag my bags across, which is never fun since the terrain is uneven and bumpy or sandy. On the Nigerian side, a border control guy mentioned he had the power to turn me away. I just told him it would be a shame not to include Nigeria in my book. Eventually, he too relented and let me through.

The border crossing did in fact take awhile, first because I asked for a name, stared down, and refused to bribe the Benin passport control official on the way out (he had asked for 5000 CFA and I had already paid 10,000 CFA for a 48-hour transit visa and 12,000 for a visa extension). Then, endless Nigerian petty officials checked me for one thing or another, with one pointing out to me that he could turn me back at the border. I just told him what a shame I thought it would be if my historical novel got written without including Nigeria. He told me he had read many histories of Nigeria, implying mine was not really needed, but eventually let me pass. Then, by around 5:30am or so, I had to walk dragging and rolling my heavy bags on uneven and sometimes sandy terrain through a phalanx of shifty-looking characters shining flashlights at everyone in the early morning darkness and arbitrarily stopping random individuals walking or riding by. I had no idea if they were actual officials or not, so I just kept walking past them until a couple of them cornered me to prevent me from proceeding. I asked to see ID and it turned out one of the guys was a drug law enforcement guy. He seemed most curious about the prescription medicines I was carrying and checked their labels carefully, whereas illegal drugs seemed only an afterthought. No one actually searched my bags – I don’t think they wanted the hassle, nor perhaps even cared what I or anyone else was bringing into the country as long as they could continue to collect their bribes.

I hope I live to the day when borders between nations no longer exist and people cherish and respect each others’ culture and history, rather than greedily seeking money and excessive material gain.

I finally made it past the border and hopped on a minibus going to Mile 2 Station in Lagos. I think there were more than 20 police checkpoints before reaching the station. The driver didn’t stop fast enough at one of the so a cop swung his wooden stick in a threatening blow to the left sideview mirror of the vehicle, resulting in lots of little glass pieces spraying through the open window onto my face – luckily none into my eyes. The driver handed over endless 20 naira bills at the checkpoints along the route.

Lagos, Nigeria

When we arrived at Mile 2 Station, the kind guy who sat next to me helped me find a taxi, though a few tried to charge me so much that I turned them away. The driver who finally took me got twice as much as I’d figured for carrying me to the Ritz Hotel.

Driving in a shared taxi into Lagos from the Benin-Nigerian border took around four hours due to the “go-slow? or in this case the “no go? during the especially busy Christmas season when townies and country folk come to shop in the big city.

In the early morning darkness, more people shone flashlights in my eyes and I didn’t know if they were government officials or bandits. I kept walking until two of them cornered me. I asked for ID and it turns out the one guy was a drug enforcement agent. He delayed me at least 15 minutes and was more concerned about the legal prescription drugs I carried than any illegal ones I might have (which, by the way, I didn’t have).

Between the Benin-Nigeria border and Lagos, there were no fewer than 25 checkpoints, many of which required the driver of the vehicle to pay bribes. When he one time tried to run a roadblock, a cop brandished a wooden club and smashed his sideview mirror, the glass spraying onto my face and chest, fortunately not into my eyes.

Arriving finally at the Mile 2 Station in Lagos, I wandered around awhile before getting on an overly expensive taxi to the Ritz Hotel, in a somewhat grubby section of Lagos Island.

The Ritz Hotel in Lagos is a run-down pit of a hotel, decaying from top to bottom of its several stories. However, 1400 naira per night is an amazing price when many of the Lagos hotels charge more than ten times that price.

Bedroom of Hotel Room, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria Bathroom of Hotel Room, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria

The floor of my room is tiles worn into the concrete lying below them with a rotting bathroom door due to the water that splashes from the shower. There is a rusty showerhead, cold water only, used to fill up the bucket of water that acts as a flush for the seatless dysfunctional toilet. To take a shit, I wipe the edge of the seatless rim with toilet paper, then toss it into the bowl to help prevent splashing of the filthy water below. I use the wall and the handle of the decayed door to perch, squatting on the toilet. Once I’ve released the waste into the bowl, I wipe, then pour the bucket of water into the bowl to flush it down. Then, I refill the bucket right away with water in case there is a water outage that would prevent flushing or showering completely. A small threshold keeps the shower water from flowing onto the floor of the hotel room proper.

When I arrived, a power outage rendered the air conditioner meaningless until this evening when power returned apparently after a break of several days.I’ve discovered that, in rooms without refrigerators, one can use the air conditioner to resolidify melted chocolate and cool down bottles of water that have warmed up in the sultry heat outside. The bedsheet was so worn it had little bunched up knots of fabric all over it, so I asked for another sheet to put over the worn one, then pulled out my sleep sack to use as a top sheet. I asked for a towel, but they don’t provide them here. Soap and toilet paper are possible if you wait long enough. Nevertheless, the staff are friendly and cordial, after the initial grumpiness of the manager, perhaps due to having to explain repeatedly the longstanding lack of power and lack of a backup generator for that eventuality.

Lagos itself is vast, busy, and loud. Everyone from motorcycle taxis, to kekes (like the motorized rickshaws in India), to cars and regular taxis, to trucks all beep their horns all the time and pedestrians are lucky to remain safe from motorcycles even while on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are passable about a third of the time if they even exist. Sometimes, they are just the concrete slabs wedged in place over the formerly open sewer visible below through the cracks between the slabs.

Abomey to Cotonou to Porto Novo

Written on December 16, 2007, at the museums, and on December 25, 2007, Fajol Castle Hotel, Abeokuta, Nigeria

Cotonou, Benin

I couldn’t pick up my Togo visa in Cotonou because it turned out it was the weekend, so I headed to the station for Porto Novo.

All the Girls to School Billboard, Benin

Porto Novo, Benin

In Porto Novo, I stayed at the amazing Centre Songhaï, which was not only a hotel but also an entrepreneurial venture designed to inspire and empower African youth. I sampled their jams and a variety of juices produced there, including baobab, pineapple, and a bit-too-strong ginger. They had signs up around the premises explaining a bit of the philosophy of the place, including an integrated approach to design and industry.

Songhai Integral System Sign, Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin Grounds of Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin Mosque, Porto Novo, Benin

Appropriate Technologies Division Sign, Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin One Does Not Wait for the Future Like One Waits for a Train: The Future, One Makes It, Motto Painted on School Administration Wall, Porto Novo, Benin

My expedition walking to town included a visit to the Musée Ethnographique and the Musée Honmé.

Sign for Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin Sign and Ornate Gate of Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin Ornate Gate of Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin

The Musée Ethnographique has exhibits related to birth, life, and death in cultures throughout Benin, including Gelede masks of the Yoruba as well as artifacts related to Betamaribe aka Samba (NW) and Patombou (NE) peoples. Léonard gave me a tour of the museum. There was also a Yoruba “statue? of a man with false breasts and a mask worn on top of his head carrying twins, one in each arm. Yoruba revere women as having the power of life and twins as a gift of the gods.

I avoided a trip inside the Musée da Silva, despite the well-done bas reliefs about slavery on the museum’s exterior, and despite the admonitions of a fellow hanging out on the street who worked there.

Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

Description of Negro Spiritual, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

I came across this temple-like edifice labeled Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou with a fascinating altar on the premises.

Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin Altar at Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin Altar at Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin

The Musée Honmé was the palace of the kings of Porto Novo from the late 17th to 19th centuries.

Sign for Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Entrance to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Carved Wooden Entrance Door to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Carved Wooden Entrance Door to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Currently under renovation with a guide who explained very well the history of the place. There were courts of the king, the queen mother, a gri-gri room for the king, the “chambre noire? for committing royal suicide, a kitchen with a divinity used to check the food for poison by a change in color, a tree of justice and some prison cells, the king’s toilet, the queen’s bathing area (although they lived elsewhere and came to the palace for 21-day stays during which they danced for the king in hope of being chosen to spend the night with him). Cannon were purchased for 15 male slaves or 21 female slaves from the French and perhaps also earlier from the Portuguese. A waiting room for visitors used so the king could check with a divinity about their intentions. Also had a mound representing Legba, a protective divinity, and representations of other divinities, as well as metal houses for ancestors. The king didn’t die – he went on a voyage. He didn’t bathe because he was always proper – he just refreshed his body. He didn’t eat – he adored the food.

Statues at Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Statue at Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Returning to the hotel, I relaxed, ate dinner, and visited the Internet cafe. I also met the Director of the Songhaï Center who helped me clear up a billing problem for telephone calls that wouldn’t work properly to the U.S.

Abomey Didn’t Bore Me

Written on December 25, 2007, Fajol Castle Hotel, Abeokuta, Nigeria

More catchup–

Abomey has an amazingly rich cultural heritage with a lot of history based on the royal kingdom known as Dahomey or Danhomê. I set out on foot from the hotel on a tour described in my guidebook.

Palace Wall Ruins, Abomey, Benin Sign for Zomadonou Akaba Temple, Abomey, Benin Zomadonou Akaba Temple, Abomey, Benin

The first stop was to be the ancient city moat, but I ran into other sites along the way. After a ruined palace wall, I came across the Zomadonou Akaba Temple and its sign which read as follows in English translation of the French original:

The Zomadonou Akaba Temple

This temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Akaba (1685-1708) and his ancestors through his child Zomadonou. Zomadonou is assisted by a Dan divinity named Gla.

Heads of the royalty each have a symbol associated with their reign, such as these for Agonglo, Guezo, and Kpengla aka Kpingla (picture below).

Left Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Dako-Donou, Gangnihessou, and Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of Agonglo, Guezo, and Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Kpengla, Tegbessou,  and Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Left Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Glah-Zomadonouton and Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbol of  Nan-Awassogba, Abomey, Benin

I came across a sign depicting one modern hair salon’s idea of the standard of feminine beauty in this region.

Sign for Hair Salon, Abomey, Benin

There are around 41 palaces in various states of preservation, use, or decay around the town. I tried to keep track of them all as I went. Amazingly, some people living right next to the sites have no knowledge of them or simply don’t understand or want to understand or think they can possibly understand me because I’m a strange foreigner. On the way to the moat, I asked people for directions along the way. Finally, when I was about 20 yards from the place, someone figured out what I was talking about. I saw the moat, locally known as Agbodo, and and took pictures of it.

Sign Describing Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin

The English translation of the French sign follows:

Agbodo: The Moat of the City

The Agbodo construction is attributed to King Agadja (1711-1722) and gave the city its name of “Agbomè,” inside the moat. King Glele (1858-1889) will undertake [sic] an extension to include the Dido water source of the city. Agbodo is 10km long. It surrounds the space which sheltered the central capacity of the kingdom with 10 entrance doors. Closed in places, it still remains very expressive of certain of its sides: poisonous plants and savage animals lived there.

Then I walked onward. It was a long walk, but I’ve found that walking is the best way to really see the sites and get to know the people and the surroundings as they are today. For example, I stopped to look at a flowering tree and a fellow piped in to let me know that he makes an infusion from its leaves to treat malaria. I also saw a traditional oven used to bake bread. I also saw a house that identified Houegbadja, the third king of Dahomey.

Flowering Tree Whose Infusion Treats Malaria, Abomey, Benin Oven Used to Bake Bread, Abomey, Benin House Mentioning Third Dahomey King Houegbadja and Honon, Cononfjhoue,  and Tohossou Aho, Abomey, Benin

Next came King Houegbadja’s palace for which the English translation of the French sign is:

The Palace of King Houegbadja

Houegbadja (1645-1685) is the founder of the kingdom of Danhomey and the city of Abomey. He comes from the dynasty of the rulers of Tado (present-day Togo). He will seize [sic] the power of the Guédévis (Yorubas) living on the plateau. He set up an official administration and consultation structures. He named some ministers, a medicine chief, a chief chef of the king, and a cult chief. He pursued expansionist politics, extending the kingdom to the Zou and Couffo rivers without making war, based on negotiations with the natives. With his symbols — the fish, the bow net, and the hoe handle — he wanted to signify that he will never enter into a net, that he was clever, and ready to defend himself.

Sign for Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Damaged Wall Symbol, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Damaged Wall Symbol, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Rear Doors of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Rear Doors of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Rear Wall of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Countryside Behind Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Wall Reconstruction, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstructed Hut, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Interior of Reconstructed Hut With Triangular Windows and Clay Pot, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Small Altar, Interior of Reconstructed Hut, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Next I visited the palace of King Agadja. My English translation of the French sign follows:

The Palace of King Agadja

King Agadja (1711-1741), called “the great conqueror,” reigned during the biggest period of expansion of the Danxomè kingdom. He conquered neighboring states: the kingdom of Savi (with the city and port of Ouidah) and Allada and started to dominate slave commerce on this coast. He established direct contact from the royal court to the Europeans. He formed an elite corps of warriors. Its rare warlike failures were against the Mahi and the Oyo kingdom (Yoruba in present-day Nigeria) of which the Danxomè gave tribute since its departure on the plateau, which was populated by the Yoruba.

Sign for the Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Gnarly Hollow Tree at Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Gnarly Hollow Tree at Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Next came the monument to the three Germans. Here’s my translation of the French sign:

The Monument to the Germans

This monument honors the engagement of three German soldiers and of a Belgian who fought against the colonial French army side by side with the Danxomè army between 1891 and 1894. Friends of King Gbehanzin, they came to show the Danxomè soldiers how to use a French cannon, lost by the French in the forests of Sedan (in France) during the war of 1870/1871 between the Germans and the French. The Kingdom of Danxomè bought this cannon but no Danxomè soldier knew how to use it. The French, astonished by the sound of the cannon’s detonation, climbed into tall trees to observe who was shooting the cannon. The 4 white soldiers, painted black, were recognized by the color of their hair. They were arrested and executed.

Sign for Monument to the Germans, Abomey, Benin Monument to the Germans, Abomey, Benin

The Agouwadji ruins once sheltered the Houtondji blacksmiths as described in my translation of the French sign there:

Agouwadji, this space once sheltered the Houtondji blacksmiths, brothers and companions of the Alladaxonu since Tado (in Togo). Then the noise of metal and anvils disturbed the peace of the King in the palace and they were moved to another district a bit further away, that bears their name: le Houtondji district. The space also sheltered a little lake named Azazo. King Tegbessou (1741-1774) made the lake disappear to extend the wall.

Sign for Agouwadji Blacksmith Shelter, Abomey, Benin Agouwadji Blacksmith Shelter, Abomey, Benin

The palace of King Tegbessou also has a French sign for which I present here the English translation:

The Palace of King Tegbessou

Since the prince Tegbessou was part of an annual tribute demanded by the Yoruba of Oyo (Nigeria), he stayed for a long time in that city, but finally he freed himself.

King Tegbessou (1741-1774) undertook some victorious wars against the Mahi and Nago, but he failed against the Yoruba.

During his reign Ouidah became a prosperous port and the second city of the kingdom. He finalized Agbodo, the moat of the city.

Sign for Palace of King Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign that describes the Feliadji entrance:

The Feliadji Entrance

The Feliadji entrance was opened by the King Tegbessou (1741-1774). The sons of the King who reached 10 years of age could not continue to live in the palace with the women. They left by this entrance to taught and educated [sic] at Vinhondji. Just as the son and heir, the Vidaxo, left by the same door to go to Ife in Nigeria, which is the country of origin of the Fa. That is where they instruct the sons and heirs in the domain of the Fa, in reading, in the Yoruba language, musical instruments and also patience.

Sign for Feliadji Entrance, Abomey, Benin

I translated into English the French sign describing the palace of King Kpengla:

The Palace of King Kpengla

King Kpengla (1774-1789) reinforced the army and conquered coastal cities, now situated in Nigeria and Togo. He still reinforced the Danxomè’s influence on the slave trade. He focused on expanding and consolidating the frontiers of the kingdom. He sent his army against the Hweda, the Ouemenou, and the Yoruba of Badagri. Victories and defeats charted the course of the army with the Amazons.

Sign for Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

After wandering around all of these ruins, I arrived at the Musée Historique d’Abomey, where I spent a good chunk of cash on the admission and camera fee. The Musée Historique d’Abomey is located in the main complex of palaces with a large old tree in front.

UNESCO Sign for Abomey History Museum in Main Complex of Palaces, Abomey, Benin Large Old Tree in Front of Abomey History Museum in Main Complex of Palaces, Abomey, Benin

Here is my English translation of the French sign describing the palace of King Agoli-Agbo:

The Palace of King Agoli-Agbo

King Agoli-Agbo (1894-1900), enthroned by the French, established himself in the palace of his ancestor Kpengla by building a specific entry gate, materialized by a baobab tree, upside down, on the advice of his soothsayer. He started to restore the Glele and Guezo palace [sic]. He named his brothers as canton chiefs. Agoli-Agbo couldn’t reign like his predecessors anymore. On January 29, 1894, General Dodds read to the public 16 articles governing political life in what was left of the Danxomè kingdom. Agoli-Agbo went into disgrace because he took his role seriously. Deposed on February 12, 1900, exiled a bit later to Gabon, he returned to Danxomè in 1910, lived 15 more years at Savè, 2 years at Mougnon before returning to his private palace at Djegbe in 1927.

Sign for Palace of King Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Carved Wooden Palace Doors, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

I read and photographed the signs for the palaces in the complex before entering the complex, since photography was not generally permitted inside. For each sign, my translation of the French sign precedes the photograph of the sign.

Ghezo Singbo

Two-Story House of Ghezo

This installation houses a Honnuwa identical to the others. This Honnuwa was transformed in Singbo (two stories) with the assistance of his friend Chacha de Souza.

Sign for Two-Story House of Ghezo, Abomey, Benin

The Palace of King Guezo

King Guezo (1818-1858) is considered a great reformer. He reorganized the structures of the State and the army, worked to unify the Kingdom and developed the production of palm oil in the context of the abolition of slavery. He undertook almost annual wars and freed finally the Kingdom from tribute to Oyo. He gave Catholics permission to build a cathedral downtown.

On the way back from a war with heavy losses, he found death.

Sign for the Palace of King Guezo, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the sign for King Agonglo’s palace:

The Palace of King Agonglo

King Agonglo (1789-1797) saddled himself with the well-being of the population for a series of reforms. He changed the system of taxation, reinforced the voodoo (vodun) cult, and supported the arts, reorganizing the art trades. During his reign, the designed decorations on the walls and pillars of the palace changed into bas reliefs, which completed the drummed language, codified chants and applied them to cloth. He loved music. He opened the Kingdom to Christian and Muslim missionaries. He undertook some war expeditions in the direction of his neighbors, the Mahi and the Ouemenous.

Sign for Palace of King Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Some people hid away to prepare for rituals in alcoves of the palace.

Preparing for Rituals in Palace Alcoves, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the sign for King Glele’s palace:

The Palace of King Glele

King Glele (1858-1889) was confronted by the interventionism of the Europeans, which he repulsed. He consolidated the supremacy of Danxomè in the region by carrying out more than 30 military campaigns. Against Porto Novo he lost. But as a result King Toffa of Porto Novo asked for the protection of the French.

King Glele enlarged “Agbodo” by including Dido, the spring of the city. He developed cultural practices like music, dance, and ceremonial rituals.

Sign for Palace of King Glele, Abomey, Benin

After I entered the museum complex, the guide was happy to see me, as he was starting to guide a group of Finnish women visiting from where they were staying in Porto Novo. They spoke English, but not French. As his primary guide language was French, he was happy to have my assistance with interpretation. I enjoyed helping the group out.

Entrance to Museum Complex, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

The palace is amazing… apparently the kings used to order warriors out to battle – on departure, they would commit to a number of human heads they intended to bring back. If they succeeded according to their commitment, the king rewarded them with advancement. If they returned with fewer than the promised number, their own head was required to fulfill the balance. So, unsuccessful warriors were unlikely to return at all.

The fiercest warriors were the Abomey Amazons, women specially trained for military service. They were not only the best warriors, but also apparently the best at tracking and recapturing escaped slaves brought in from other districts for use in Abomey or sale elsewhere.

The king bought cannons, each one in exchange for 15 male slaves or 21 females slaves.

There is a temple for offerings to the king after he died that has a tunnel communicating to a more private part of the palace compound. The queen mother was also buried there, although she was usually not the mother of the king or his wife.

As we wandered through the palace grounds, large numbers of celebrants took part in the Danxome Festival festivities that started that day. This included costumed men riding decorated horses, all manner of traditional dancing, some children dancing with Mickey Mouse masks, and a large presentation area where various officials and VIPs sat.

Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Drummers at Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Blurry Fancy Dress Horse at Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

Bleachers for Officials and Audience, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Organized Troup in Crowd, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Bleachers for Officials, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

Female Troupe Preparing for Ritual Dancing, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Stiltwalker, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Moments of Relaxation, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

I left the palace after goodbyes to the Finns and the guide, then ran into a bunch of drummers playing the kind of drum used as talking drums. They urged me to dance while they drummed, so I did. I tried to get them to “talk? with the drum, but they didn’t or couldn’t, so I went on my way after giving them a little baksheesh.

I came across the palace of King Gbehanzin next and translated into English the French sign there as follows:

The Palace of King Gbehanzin

The reign of King Gbehanzin (1890-1894) was characterized by the defense of the Nation against French penetration, finally by a war of resistance. After the fall of Abomey in 1892, he fought 14 months more in the bush out of the region. January 27, 1894, he went to General Dodds in the hope of ending the war. But he was deported to Martinique, later exiled in Algeria where he died in December 1906. The construction of the Dowome palace was started by King Gbehanzin and finished by his descendants on the occasion of the return of his ashes to Benin in 1928.

Sign for Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin Long Wall of Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin

I passed a busy market en route between the multitude of palaces and temples.

One of the Markets on Route Between Palaces, Abomey, Benin

At one temple, I looked around to see if anyone was taking care of it, then not seeing anyone, I took some pictures, after which a fellow came up to me aggressively demanding what I was doing and telling me I can’t just go around taking pictures of whatever I like. The resolution of the matter ended up being my negotiation with the chief’s son to erase a few pictures on the camera after which I had to show him they were really erased.

Here is my translation of the French sign for the Zewa Guezo temple:

Zewa Guezo Temple

The Zewa Guezo temple is part of the Zomadonou royal cult with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Guezo (1818-1858) and his ancestors through his five children Zewa, Noudai, Gojeto, Agboagli, and Sava.

Sign for Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin Probably Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin Large Tree in Courtyard, Probably Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign for the palace of the Crown Prince Guezo:

Palace of the Crown Prince Guezo

At ten years of age, the princes leave the family house and the women to be taught and instructed. At 20 years of age, they are presented to the King. He gives them land to let them construct a house. The crown prince must construct his private palace on a plot of his choice, but after a Fa consultation, to prevent illnesses, to have prosperity and peace in the future neighborhood. Around him his close defenders, his counselors, his friends, and the populace established themselves and constituted a new neighborhood. The prince and future King created the Gbecon/Hounli neighborhood.

Sign for Palce of Crown Prince Guezo, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign for the palace of the Crown Prince Agonglo:

Palace of the Crown Prince Agonglo

At ten years of age, the princes leave the family house and the women to be taught and instructed. At 20 years of age, they are presented to the King. He gives them land to let them construct a house. The crown prince must construct his private palace on a plot of his choice, but after a Fa consultation, to prevent illnesses, to have prosperity and peace in the future neighborhood. Around him his close defenders, his counselors, his friends, and the populace established themselves and constituted a new neighborhood. The prince and future King Agonglo created the Adame neighborhood at Goho and later the Houegbo/Hounli neighborhood.

Sign for Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Old Burnt Tree, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Left Side of Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Wall Designs in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Wall Designs in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Building in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Sculpture and Building in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Sculpture in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

I came across the Houemou Agonglo Temple and its sign which read as follows in English translation of the French original:

Houemou Agonglo Temple

The Houemou Agonglo temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Agonglo (1789-1797) and his ancestors through his child Hoeumou.

Sign for Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Tree and Tents, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Gangnihessou Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Wood-Burning Ceramic Stoves, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Dakodonou Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Gate to Private Compound, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Mound Altar, Probably Esu Deity, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Mound Altar, Probably Esu Deity, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Akaba Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Symbols on Compound Wall, One Reminiscent of Dan Rainbow Serpent, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Glele Symbol and Behanzin Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Agoli-Agbo Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Two Cute Children in Front of Hondossou Painting on Compound Pillar, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Godjeto Painting on Compound Pillar, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Agonglo Symbol and Alternate Spelling of Hwemu on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Probably Ritual Mound in Compound, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

After all those palaces and temples, I worked up a real thirst, so I had a drink at a little pub just past a market with goats and chickens and a special fetish in the middle of the market. I translated the French sign there as follows:

The Gbedagba Market

The Gbedagba market was a spoil of war of King Glele around 1877 following his victory over Sokl???bo [covered by cloth] in the hills. The market was transferred in full working order with products and booths. The Haïzan fetish in the market was installed by the Abomeans to bless the use of the space. The Haïzan is always installed in the open air to better radiate through the space.

Sign for Gbedagba Market, Abomey, Benin Mound Fetish, Gbedagba Market, Abomey, Benin

I tried to find the twin fetish and the fertility fetish, which had apparently been vandalized by a female tourist who sought to take the protruding part of the fetish with her. After first getting permission from a woman at the compound next to the Sémassou Temple, I then had to negotiate again with a man who said the woman didn’t have the right to do what she had done, then let a disabled boy on a bike show me the twin fetish and what may have been the damaged fertility fetish, of which I took pictures. I now realize how appropriate it was for a disabled boy to be showing me around the site.

I start with my translation of the French sign at the Semassou Glele temple:

Semassou Glele Temple

The Semassou Glele Temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Glele (1858-1889) and his ancestors through his two children Semassou and Hiensien.

Sign for Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting of Huegbaja Kasudo Symbol in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting of Decapitation in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is a picture of the fertility fetish as it was when I saw it:

Fertility Fetish Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is a picture taken by a photographer named Mark Wilkinson apparently before the removal of the phallus from the fertility fetish:

Fertility Fetish With Phallus Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is the twin fetish as I saw it:

Twin Fetish Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

They wouldn’t budge on the python temple though, neither to look inside it or to take pictures of it. In the end, a bit more baksheesh brought the man around.

Afterwards, he even stopped a guy who was driving by to give me a ride back to the Place Goho roundabout near the hotel where I was staying. I translated the French sign there as follows:

Goho Place

The final combat between the French colonial army and the Dahomean army took place at Goho place in 1892. The place symbolizes Dahomey’s capitulation. Here King Gbehanzin surrendered to General Dodds in 1894. In 1974, the revolutionary military government proclaimed the Marxist-Leninist ideology in the place. Since 1978, the place has hosted the statue of the “national hero” King Gbehanzin.

Sign for Place Goho, Abomey, Benin Place Goho and Statue of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin

I didn’t arrive back at the hotel until well after checkout time, so I decided to spend another night there before heading on to Cotonou to pick up my visa. On the television was the strange spectacle of a program called “Window on Islam” with pilgrims on the the hajj circling the Ka’aba in Mecca while French-language advertisements ran across the bottom of the screen.

Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin

At breakfast before I left, I snapped a pic of the cool painted optical illusion decoration on a pillar of the porch in front of the hotel that looks alternately like a bottle or two wine glasses.

Painted Bottle Decoration on Hotel Patio, Abomey, Benin

We Do Voodoo in Ouidah

Written on December 24, 2007, Heritage Hotel, Oshogbo, Nigeria

More catchup–

The voodoo ritual for the adepts finishing their nine-month initiations in Ouidah was quite amazing. I hope my pictures come out. After getting hit up by various members of the chief’s family, and after chatting with some of the chief’s sons, as well as running into Bettina, a German filmmaker also staying at the Jardin Brasilien hotel, and another guy who has been filming for many years in Ouidah, and now living in the chief’s old house since the chief has moved into the official chief’s residence after the death of the prior chief.

Before the ritual started, another crowd came to the location for a funeral, chanting, and the pall bearers twirling the coffin rapidly around in the street. I tried to take some pictures, but some of the men told me not to do so.

Funeral Procession, Ouidah, Benin

After the funeral, a couple of women dressed in traditional costume ran through the ceremonial site blowing whistles. They came three times to indicate the beginning of the ritual. Then, the adepts and their teachers came from the chief’s residence into the ceremonial location. The ritual preparations had started with some men, probably tribal priests, preparing some items in the center of the location. They told me not to photograph them unless I paid them in addition to what I had already given to the chief and his family. So, I just waited until things really got going again before starting to take more pictures and, in response to some persistent nagging, gave a bit more cash to an elderly gentleman, another village chief in charge of some other part of the ritual.

Preparations for Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparations for Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Women Blowing Whistles to Begin Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Crowd Gathering for Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Crowd Gathering for Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Vodun Ritual Starting With Procession of Initiates, Ouidah, Benin

Bowing of Initiates, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Bowing of Initiates, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Bowing of Initiates, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Procession of Initiatives, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Initiates Bow to Community, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Initiates Bow to Community, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Initiates Bow to Community, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Drummers Playing in Crowd, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gender-Bending Vodun Devotees, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Gender-Bending Vodun Devotees, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gender-Bending Vodun Devotee, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Probably Dance for a Particular Deity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Probably Dance for a Particular Deity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gender-Bending Dancers, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Devotees Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Initiates Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Prayer Before Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing to the Drums, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing to the Drums, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Woman With Fetish at Bosom Wipes Faces of Initiates, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Participants Watch Sacrifice Preparations, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Probably Divination Prior to Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

As the dances began, drummers sat on one side of a large circle of spectators, providing rhythmic accompaniment and encouragement to the dancers.

Preparing for Sacrifice of Goat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice of Goat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing for Sacrifice of Goat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Sacrificing a Goat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gathering Sacrificial Goat Blood in Ceramic Pots, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Annointing Ceremonial Drum With Sacrificial Goat Blood, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Finishing Draining of Sacrifical Goat Blood, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Finishing Draining of Sacrifical Goat Blood, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing Sacrificial Goat Meat for Cooking, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Disposing of Sacrificial Goat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Ceremonial Layout of Sacrificial Materials, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Sacrificing a Chicken, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Seasoning and Cooking the Sacrificial Meat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing Fire for Cooking of Sacrificial Meat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing Fire for Cooking of Sacrificial Meat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Observing the Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Preparing Fire for Cooking of Sacrificial Meat, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Adding a Cat or Rabbit and a Chicken to the Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Observing the Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Man With Shoulder Scarification Among Crowd Observing Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

At one point, the priests sacrificed a goat and a chicken, which cooked in two pots mounted over small fires at the center of the ritual circle. I didn’t stay late enough to see how the meat was distributed.

Devotees Continue Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Elders Observe Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Woman With Scarred Back Watching Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Girl Holding Baby on Back in Traditional Cloth, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Girl Holding Baby on Back in Traditional Cloth, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Initiates Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Initiates Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing With Red Pompom-Like Decorations, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancer With Red Pompom-Like Decorations, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Crown Interaction, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Adding Water to Cooking Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Some of the adepts dancing were quite young, say six years old. The crowd was joyful when the youngest girl danced energetically before the drums. The costumes worn by the adepts and teachers varied according to the orisha they initiated under and sometimes also according to the dance.

Young Initiates Dance, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Young Initiates Dance, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Further Preparation of the Sacrifice, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Bestowing Blessings, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Observing the Dancers, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Dancer With Ceremonial Staff, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancer With Ceremonial Staff, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Crowd Observing Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Assetive Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Deity Possession While Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Watching Dancers Depart, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Another dance called the danse d’amour (love dance) involved a troupe of women dancing together and, as the music rose to a climax, the hugged, kissed, and gyrated their bodies in groups of two or three, simulating sexual contact to the general feigned shock and amusement of the crowd.

Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Love Dance Between Sexual Women, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Gender-divergent males, perhaps mounted by female divinities, danced and blessed those in attendance.

Gender-Divergent Male Dancer, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gender-Divergent Male Dancer, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Gender-Divergent Male Dancer Giving Blessing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

A dance for the thunder divinity took place with dancers holding everything from ritual axes with iron blades to sticks and shouting as they rose and pointed these items to the center of their circular clump within the large circle demarcating the ritual boundary.

Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Dance for Thunder Divinity, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Dancing, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing Blur, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing Blur, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

Dancing Blur, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin Dancing Blur, Vodun Ritual, Ouidah, Benin

The ritual was incredible and fascinating, but as twilight fell, I started getting really hungry, and not for goat meat. Plus, I had a feeling one of the chief’s many sons was going to hit me up for more cash, so I gently slipped away. I ran into the same zemi driver who had given me the ride from the hotel to town. He offered to drop me back at the hotel.

On the way, we passed the tree of forgetfulness, said to be where the slaves were forced to march around counter-clockwise three times before proceeding down the slave trail to the beach where there is now a Gate of No Return monument to mark the passage of the huge number of slaves loaded onto small boats, then onto the large boats where they were packed tightly in extremely unsanitary conditions for the passage across the ocean.

I got back to the hotel and ordered dinner for 8pm, hoping that Jacques would be around at that time. Indeed he was, along with the French couple I had met earlier plus a fellow from Liechtenstein and his Malian girlfriend. We had a lot of fun chatting over dinner under the beautiful stars by the seashore. Isaac had caught the rays and Jacques proudly showed them off to me.

I went to sleep feeling good and slept well. The following morning Jacques and I traveled together to Cotonou, I to extend my transit visa and he to get some cash. We saw typical Benin gas stations along the way (picture below).

Jacques and I Ride Taxi From Ouidah to Cotonou, Benin Gasoline Station on Route From Ouida to Cotonou, Benin

We parted when we arrived there. As I applied for my extended visa, I met a guy who split rather quickly and two female friends of his, Marie-Laetitia of Saint Cloud near Paris and Tine from Bremen, who was quite upset because the visa folks got the date of her visa extension wrong, meaning that she’d have to travel again back to Cotonou to pay for another visa extension if she wanted to leave the country with a valid visa on her planned date of departure.

Cotonou, Benin

I decided to travel through the country while waiting for the visa, so I got on a shared taxi for Abomey after dragging my bags through the street and finally getting a taxi to the station at the Place de l’Etoile Rouge.

Abomey, Benin

I also ended up walking my bags to a hotel when I arrived in Abomey because the most frequent transport available are the motorcycle taxis which I refuse to ride with all my heavy luggage. Since I was walking, I didn’t bother going all the way to the Motel Abomey, but got a room at the nearby Hotel Guévérney 4 instead. I arrived too late to tour Abomey the first day, so I drank to stay hydrated and rested and showered before ordering a large bottle of a fizzy apple drink I shared with the hotel staff and then eating dinner in the hotel. The room had only a fan, but I found that I could sleep comfortably by taking a shower just before getting into bed with the fan on. Hotel staff let me put my water and chocolate in their frig, although the chocolate ended up being a gift to them. I tried unsuccessfully to rent a bicycle for the next morning. And I couldn’t get breakfast before my cutoff time of 9am for heading out to see the sites of Abomey, thinking that I could perhaps travel on again that afternoon. That was not destined to happen.

Ouidah Voodoo

December 10, 2007, Ouidah, House of the Sea, “Houhue?

I’m waiting for a voodoo ceremony to begin at the palace of the the one known here as the Supreme Chief of voodoo worldwide, Daagbo Hounon Tomandjlehoun-pkon. The ceremony is for some adepts who will finish their initiation after nine months in the convent. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but note that is the usual time for a human pregnancy. Each adept follows a particular voodoo deity.

Earlier today, I met the chief, and Nangbo Hounon the woman chief. They give orders to their followers. After entering his room and removing my hat and shoes, I followed the example of his son and my guide to the place and bowed before the chief on my knees putting my head to the ground. I rose and we chatted. He asked if I was well received in Ouidah and I said I was. He asked for a gift and I gave 5000 CFA plus later another 2000 CFA for two of his male relatives who showed me around the place. The chief told me to return around 2pm to take photos and to see the ceremony for the initiates.

Avlekete Vodun Mermaid Spirit Mural, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Avlekete Vodun Mermaid Spirit Mural, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Entrance to Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin

Decorated Interior Structure, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Statue With Ram and Chicken Sacrifice Next to Daagbo Hounon Portrait, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Painting of Daagbo Hounon and His Late Wife, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin

Painted Bas Relief of Vodun Ceremonial Elements, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Cute Children, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Mural of Musicians, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin

Iron Shrine, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Mural Depicting Daagbo Hounon Walking on Water With Help of Sacred Turtle, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Mural of Women Carrying Jars on Their Heads, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin

Mural of Women Carrying Jars on Their Heads, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin Shrines, Daagbo Hounon Dodo Palace, Ouidah, Benin

The current chief was enthroned on June 25, 2006. He was chosen by the oracle from among the Hounon family members. There is a fetish priest who tosses a cord to divine who will be the next chief. The ceremonies to install a new chief take two years. Have a look at the mural of Daagbo’s lineage in the last picture above, which is a link to a photograph on Bernard Cesarone’s site.

The people here are well aware of the links they have with their relatives spread across the sea to Brazil and other locations, especially because some Brazilian slaves were repatriated here.