The place to Explore Benin and its Culture
January 10th is a holiday in Benin when the Vodun Festival takes place. It’s one of the most celebrated holiday as there are many Beninese that practice Vodun. It is estimated to be about 37% of the population. In addition to that, there is a good amount of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims population also practicing Vodun. Vodun became an official religion since 1994 The festival mainly takes place in a town called Ouidah, last about a week and it’s not to be missed if possible.
The word Vodun, also spelled as Vaudou, Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, Voodoo, comes from the Fon and Ewe Languages and it means “Sprit”. Although the birthplace is in Benin, it is African traditional religion practiced in coastal West Africa from Ghana to Nigeria. Vodun uses spirits and other organic elements (animals, sea and earth) during invocation rites. The world of the living and the dead are intertwined. In the religion, there is one God, Mawu, that has many helpers that are called the Orishas. There are 7 orishas or 7 children of Mawu (God). The Orishas are much like the Sanskrit chakra system. Each one of them are part of our human body and vibrates different energies while working in continuum with the others. You called or put focus on specific Orishas based on the challenges you face. The most popular Orishas are:
Papa Legba: the youngest child as well as the moderator between the Mawu and other children. He is at the the God of virility and man power and usually called upon first during any rituals.
Mami Wata: the god/desses of the waters.
Gu: The God of iron and smith craft.
Sakpata: the ruler of diseases.
Eshu: the messenger between Mawu and the humans.
The festival is very vibrant and filled with many activities. The festival starts with the slaughter of a goat in honor of the spirits and is followed by lots of chanting, dancing, invocation of the spirits, initiations rites and various spectacles. Other sacrifices are made to be in favor of the spirits and receive more blessings. The spectacles are amazing and very entertaining. It is known that during some of the spectacles that Vodun followers might enter a state of trance and perform unexplainable acts such as cutting themselves or talking to deceased descendants.
Another spectacle to witness are the performance of Egungun. Egungun spirits perform during the Voodoo ceremony. The Egungun are masqueraded dancers that represents the ancestral spirits of the Yoruba, a Nigerian ethnic group, and are believed to visit earth to possess and give guidance to the living.
During the festival, the highly respected Vodun priests and priestesses are present and partake into the activities by either initiating someone or dancing. The festival takes place in difference part of the town of Ouidah and that also includes going to the Temple of Pythons as well as the beach, specifically where the monument, “La Porte du Non Retour” or the Door of No Return is situated. This is mainly to commemorate those that were forced to leave Benin due to slavery.
Today, Vodun is practiced pretty much anywhere in the world. It’s very predominant in the Caribbean and the Americas. Even though many people regards the religion as being Black or White magic used to harm others, this isn’t what Vodun truly about.In essence, Vodun is used to holistically celebrate human beings as well as enhance the quality of life. In Benin, Vodun isn’t used to hurt others but rather to bless and protect you and loved ones whether they area still alive or deceased. It’s a very respected and official religion in Benin and being able to see the festival is an unforgettable experience.