Forget about Voodoo dolls.
Benin is the birthplace of this most mysterious of religions, and it is still found here in its purest form. Ouidah’s annual festival draws followers who transform into their chosen God, adopting their characteristics. The Zangbeto look like giant, walking grass skirts, while the Egungun – the most powerful – are covered entirely in colourful patchwork. There are ritual sacrifices, plus dancing, drinking and the constant beat of drums.
Be surprised by history.
Abomey is the former capital of the Dahomey Kingdom, whose kings became rich by selling their enemies to European slave traders. Some estimate that the kings earned around £250,000 per year; one king described the slave trade as “the ruling principle of my people”. The legacy of horrific slave raids can still be seen across Benin: the fortress-like architecture of the Somba, the slave forts and Door or No Return along the coast, and the village of Ganvié – built in the middle of a lake to escape the Dahomey, whose beliefs prevented them from entering the water.
Benin is divided into kingdoms – many villages still have traditional kings, chiefs and palaces. Your guide may be able to request an audience with a king
, where you can have an informal chat to find out about the duties of a modern-day Beninese monarch and the role he plays in the community. These important figureheads are still highly venerated – local people turn to their king to resolve disputes, and a meeting is never guaranteed.