Benin: Ouidah

Benin feels a bit like Togo on steroids. More developed, more expensive, more French (the hypermarket in Cotonou stocks all the French brands we  miss: Carte d’Or, Lu, Yoplait!). And also, more animist. The roads feel like a time warp, reminiscent of French roads in the 1970’s – full of Peugeot 404’s and 504’s.

Ouidah, an ancient coastal town, was a major centre for the slave trade in the 18th century . It is currently the self-proclaimed voodoo capital of the world.

The Portuguese Fort, built in 1710, held the slaves captured in the interior of the continent before they were sold and sent to the Americas. Francisco “Chacha” da Souza, the most prominent Portuguese slave trader at the time held a quasi monopoly on the trade. Intriguingly, his descendents still live in Ouidah, in a large compound which overlooks the old slave market.

Ouidah is also the centre of worship for the Python Voodoo. Many of its inhabitants scarify their faces with ten incisions to mimic the face of a python. Every 10th of January is a global celebration of the Python Voodoo, with adepts coming from all over the world to worship. Interestingly, the Python Temple is just across from the Catholic Church, with many people worshipping in both venues.

old Portuguese fort
the De Souza compound, on the site of the old slave market
temple of the Python Voodoo
the priest
Door of No Return, where the slaves used to be loaded onto ships sailing for the Americas