The Jardin Brasilien, Daagbo, Kpasse Sacred Forest, and the Ouidah Pythons

Written December 22, 2007, Hotel Diganga, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

More catchup–

Then, I went to the main market in Lomé to change my Ghana cedis into CFA used in Togo, Benin, and other francophone West African countries. I managed a not-so-great rate, then tried getting a taxi back to the hotel, which didn’t happen until after I got hot and tired wandering through the market. The guys at the hotel were nice to me and helped me get my bags into a taxi and on my way to the Togo-Benin border.

At each of these borders, it amazed me how the immigration officials were taking bribes to let people pass through despite minor infractions of law or policy. So many of them tried to get me to give money, but I refused. Since I carry a US passport and pay a big visa fee already, I can get away with it.

At least at this border, it was the same shared taxi who waited for us on the Benin side who had dropped us off on the Togo side. I got the ride to Ouidah, then got overcharged for a ride to the Jardin Brasilien, a delightful hotel on the beachfront.

Ouidah, Benin

Written December 22, 2007, Hotel Diganga, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

More catchup–

At the Jardin Brasilien, they had a swimming pool filed with sea water.

Sea-Water Swimming Pool, Hotel Jardin Brasilien, Ouidah, Benin Beach, Cabins, and Lodge, Hotel Jardin Brasilien, Ouidah, Benin Beach and Palms, Hotel Jardin Brasilien, Ouidah, Benin

What a great place to relax from the stress of travel, with the sound of the pounding surf soothing my sleep. I showered in the room before heading over to the pool with the lifeguard came running over before I jumped in to let me know I had to shower. I explained I had already showered, but he was concerned about the sand on my feet getting into the pool. I washed off again and enjoyed a delightful swim just as an elderly fellow was getting out of the pool to go for a walk with a woman I came to find out is his wife. On the way out of the pool, I met a French fellow named Jacques and we agreed to eat dinner together that evening at 8pm. I was so exhausted from travel and a big of digestive trouble that I napped for a few hours before rousing myself for dinner.

Jacques, an older guy from the Mediterranean coast of France, was on a fascinating quest. He served his French military service 40 years ago in Benin, specifically in Parakou in the central to northern part of Benin. While serving, he went to a village where he took some pictures. One guy got upset at him for taking one of the pictures and, after resolving the conflict, Jacques promised to retunr one day to give him a copy of the picture. Jacques had returned to honor his promise after 40 years, but unfortunately the fellow had already died, so Jacques gave the pictures to his family. Jacques searched in another village nearby for a baby who had appeared in one of the old photos. When he found her, the bonded instantly. Jacques ended up asking her what he could do to help her life in the village. She answered that she was trying to set up a nice shop for food and other items, so Jacques financed the operation. He stayed for a couple of weeks, living on pounded yam (igname) every day til the place was set up. I encountered him taking a break to relax from his travel to the village. He had met Isaac (?), the chief lifeguard at the hotel, who asked Jacques if he could help him with some fishing equipment. Jacques agreed. He spent a few days getting the fishing operation set up, impressed by Isaac’s determination, persistence, and courage, for example swimming for nearly an hour after dusk to put the nets out from the shore. The first night they caught nothing, but after placing live instead of dead bait on the hooks, they caught a few man-of-ray’s, including one that delivered two babies on capture. Apparently, people do eat the rays, so Isaac was on his way to town to sell the fish, except for one Jacques and some of the other hotel guests hoped to eat themselves.

My first morning in Ouidah, I met Henri and his girlfriend Natalie who were visiting, biking around, and on vacation from their jobs in Filingué, a few hours drive outside Niamey in Niger. I talked mostly with him, since she wasn’t feeling well with something that sounded exactly like what I had. I found him quite attractive. They ended up inviting me to come visit them after New Year’s in the village, and perhaps I will. He works with cattle breeding and she works in the local radio station.

Off I went to town, on a motorcycle taxi (called taxi-moto or zemi-john) after Jacques’ encouragement to transcend my fears about that mode of transport. On the sandy road, I actually felt safe riding along at a reasonable speed with the sand to cushion any fall. It was only on the cobbled and paved roads that I got anxious.

Paved Road and Shacks, Ouidah, Benin

I stopped by the residence of the main chief of Ouidah, Daagbo (see entry of December 11). He asked me to return later that day to snap photos and see the ceremony for the initiates who spent nine months in preparation. Before returning for the ceremony, I visited the local history museum, the Musée d’Histoire de Ouidah, where I met Olivier Coyotte, a Belgian playwright of Turkish origin, and Simon Kind, an attractive Québecois fellow.

Entrance Sign for Ouidah History Museum, Musée d Histoire de Ouidah

I walked to Kpassezoume, or the Kpasse Sacred Forest, which had wonderful sculptures of the various Yoruba divinities, as well as a rare iroko tree said to be the tree King Kpassé turned himself into while fleeing enemies. One finds in the forest the works of contemporary sculptors Cyprien Tokoudagba, Theodore and Calixte Dakpogan, and Simonet Biokou. According to this quote of Dana Rush from an African Arts article of December 22, 2001:

Sometime between 1530 and 1580, Kpasse became the second king of Savi (located nine kilometers north of Ouidah) and founder of Ouidah. When he learned that two jealous enemies were plotting his demise, he alerted his two sons, telling them that although he would never die, he would disappear one day. If it should happen that he did not come out of his room before sunset, his sons were not to open the door but understand that he was already gone. After nine days they would see a specific sign from their father which, once understood, would protect them and their families for generations to come. One day these events did come to pass. Today the sign is still a secret associated with the Kpasse vodun, known only to the direct descendants of the king.

Soon after King Kpasse disappeared, his family living in Savi saw a bird they had never seen before. It led them to the Sacred Forest in Ouidah. Upon entering the sacred grounds of the forest, the bird turned into two growling panthers (male and female). The family was frightened until they heard the soothing voice of the king. He gave them an important message: if at any time they were having problems, they could come to the forest and pray to a specific iroko tree that houses his spirit. The tree was then just a little sprout next to a sacred clay pot. Today, behind the ruins of the old French administrative house in the Sacred Forest, abandoned because the spirits were “too strong” for the French, one finds active shrines, including a clay pot, next to the tree in which Kpasse’s spirit resides (interview with the current King Kpasse, July 19, 1995).

Entrance of Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Entrance of Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Jaguar Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Horned and Phallic Legba Deity Sculpture and Large Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Horned and Phallic Legba Deity Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Bokonon Fa Diviner and Other Sculptures, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Horned and Phallic Legba Deity on Stool Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Large Gnarly Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Termite or Ceremonial Mound at Bottom of Trunk of Large Gnarly Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Xeviosso Spirit of Thunder and Lightning Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Python Enclosure, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Mound Shrine at Python Enclosure, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Aye-Akanmuu Label at Python Enclosure, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Another View of Python Enclosure, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Shrine House With Dan Rainbow Serpent Sculpture on Left, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Detail of Front Wall of Shrine House, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Doorway of Shrine House, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Dan Rainbow Serpent Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin View Past Right Side of Shrine House, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Boy Accompanying Me on Tour, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Vegetation, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Shrine to Dada Zodji, God of Smallpox and Twin Son of Mawu-Lisa, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Raffia on Tree Trunk Shrine, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Shrine to Loko God of Iroko Tree Inhabited by Kpasse, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Shrine at Iroko Tree Said to Be King Kpasse, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

I made a wish by touching the iroko tree said to be King Kpasse and leaving an offering (last picture above).

Gozin Shrine, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture Personifying Vodun Force Called Cakatu, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin

Sculpture of Priest Holding Xeviosso-Shaped Censer, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture of Three-Headed Indian God Densu and Husband of Mami Wata, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Sculpture of Three-Headed Indian God Densu and Husband of Mami Wata, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin
Large Gnarly Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Crest of Large Gnarly Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Crest of Large Gnarly Tree, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin
Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin Bokonon Fa Diviner Sculpture, Kpasse Sacred Forest, Ouidah, Benin
After leaving the sacred forest, I rode a zemi to the python temple where they tried to gouge me for cash to take photos which I fortunately refused because the temple was interesting, but rather small. They had a roundhouse full of pythons who stay inside during the day then go out at night to feed on rodents. Residents of Ouidah respect the pythons and return them to the temple if found on the streets. Every 9(?) years, a ceremony takes place at the temple, the details of which the guide would not really elaborate, somewhat infuriatingly repeating the same stock response over and over while also asking if I had any more questions. You can read more and see photographs of this python temple at Xeni Jardin’s blog.

After the pythons, I walked toward Daagbo’s residence. On the way, I chatted with a few guys hanging out in a telecom shop. I took a picture of this sculpture carved from an old tree to represent the history of Ouidah.

Tree Sculpture of Local History, Ouidah, Benin Tree Sculpture of Local History, Ouidah, Benin Tree Sculpture of Local History, Ouidah, Benin

Musée Nationale in Lomé, Togo

December 11, 2007, Musée Nationale, Lomé, Togo

Iron and forge exhibit

Musical instruments:

A. Tambour d’aiselle of the griots (two membranes)

1. Kebyè (Kara region) for celebrations and funerals

2. Tem (Central region) and all over the country

B. Tambour “Akrema? (Central region) for funerals and messages

C. Tambour “Kamou? – made with clay pot (Kara region)

Alam, white crystal to purify water (like stone I bought in Dakar)

Divinité lagunaire with three heads, sculpted in wood, protects and punishes adepts according to their behavior, believed Guins – called “densou? (Maritime region)

Fecundity god statue “Adbamkena? (Maritime region), wood sculpture, bearded man with large phallus drooping over crossed leg, smoking twisted pipe and holding key in left hand and cleaver in right hand that seems to cleave a small head with extended tongue, seated on stool

Adept of the serpent “Da?, wood sculpture, woman seated on on stool with prominent breasts holding serpent in left hand with serpent’s head extending above her head and tail wrapping around her neck and raised right wrist, wearing two silver bracelets on right wrist and silver earrings in both pierced ears

Deceased twin statues, wood sculpture, about six inches tall, some with white cloth dress tightened with cord around neck, Éwé and Guin peoples (Maritime region)

Adept of “Voudon?, Éwé (Maritime region), two feet tall wood, holding what looks like a club with a metal piece in left hand and what looks like a double-headed candelabra with four holes in the rear and three in front in right hand (see drawing in journal) (later learned represents thunder god)

Ritual pots with cones called “Koubacou? used by Bassar (Kara region)

Some pots believed inhabited by spirits of twins and the elderly for example by the Nawdba (Kara region) and Kabyè where one type called “n’taaka?

Pots for serving beer called “pew?, Kabyè (Kara region)

Slavery exhibit as well – not that extensive

Do You Know the Way to Lome?

After the W.E.B. Dubois experience, I went back to the Millennium Guesthouse to get my bags and off to the bus station for Lome.

Lome, Togo

Lome is a pit. I took only this one picture and I managed to lose my Dell laptop power adapter.

Protect Ourselves and Protect Others, AIDS Prevention Campaign Billboard, Lome, Togo

I have to say that crossing the border from Ghana to Togo, then arriving in the city of Lome, was my least favorite part of the trip so far. That probably has to do with the difficulty of getting across the border dragging my bags along uneven pavement and gravel without any helpful signage or people to make it any easier, not to mention random people yelling out “white man? at me as I walk by, the sun setting and my anxiety about getting a taxi to the hotel, negotiating a fair price with a driver who claims to know where we’re going but then somehow doesn’t know once we’re underway even though I’m giving quite clear directions from the travel guidebook. Worst of all though was losing my laptop power adapter somewhere along the way. That was a real disaster! I hoped maybe I had left it in the last taxi and that the driver would return it to me at the hotel, but no such luck. He tried to charge me more money because the guidebook said Hotel Digbawa instead of Hotel Degbava. Anyway, I checked into a strange room with a window out to the reception area of the hotel. The place was pretty dumpy. I did manage to walk to the bank in the morning, then to the anemic Musée Nationale de Togo.