Tuesday, January 18, 2011


A conversation i had with a very old man on the street.
Man- You're french?
Me-NO. American.
Man- Oh, but you're handsome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Vodun Festival

January 10th in Benin is a National Holiday celebrating traditional religions. Benin is an especially pluralist country, playing home to a variety of religions. Of course you have the Christians and the Muslims, but there are also many other minority religions that play a huge role in Beninese society. There is, of course, Voudon (Voodoo) which is largely practiced in the south where I live now, and is seated in Ouidah, where both myself and the supreme chief of Voudon live. There are a lot of other little groups too, for example the Celestial Christians that combine traditional religion with Voudon and there are also the Tron, a type of traditional religion that includes some Muslim elements. On top of that you run in to a large variety of others as well, imported from the US or elsewhere – Eckankar, Rasta, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

It can easily be said that though a majority of Beninese people are Christian or Muslim, but most of them still practice traditional religion on some level. This might be as simple as “gris-gris” charms bought from a talisman to protect their home or family or as complicated as ritual sacrifices. When I attended Catholic Mass in my old village, this was a constant complaint of the priest. This clearly overweight man claimed he didn’t have money to eat, and at the same time, people were spending all their money on charms and rituals.

The January 10th date was chosen, because of its significance to those who are members of Voudon cults. This is the time of the year, if I understand correctly, that they manifest their faith and ask for protection for the coming year. The event takes place in Ouidah, more specifically on the beach. I found myself on the stage of officials sitting behind the U.S. Ambassador to Benin. Our administrator W., was the MC for the entire event, which hosted thousands of Beninese and probably a few hundred Europeans and Americans.
The event consisted of several speeches and unfortunately, the authorities were whisked away before the actual Voudon ceremonies took place. “The mayor is having a reception, want to come?” the Ambassador asked me. “Sure,” I said. I don’t’ think the ambassador realized that it was a sit-down luncheon, at which there was most definitely not a place set for myself, or our administrator who came as well. We ended up eating anyway, and even managed to get a few glasses of champagne.

Throughout the week after, individual family clans have their own events. Many of them have their own Voudon convents where selected Children are raised to speak their secret languages and dance and sing ritual songs. My understanding is that each family has its set of divinities that it is responsible for adoring and preserving. One family with whom I’m pretty close, for example, adores a series of divinities related to fire.

This is really a festive season in Ouidah. The Voudon Festival was accompanied by an International Dance Festival “AGOGO” and an International Film Festival “Quintessence.” It’s been really interesting to see how different events and activities are executed and it has given me a lot of ideas for my work.

A new type of poll dancing.

The delegation of the supreme chief of vudon.
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