The festivals of Benin, the land of Voodoo and masks
The tours to West Africa organized by TransAfrica make a stop to the most characteristic festivals of the different countries. In Benin, every year in January, the festival season opens in Ouidah with the big celebrations dedicated to voodoo.
Discover the religion while travelling with us in Africa
The festivals of Benin are well known in the whole West Africa. Every year in January, the festivals’ season starts with the Voodoo festival. Voodoo is not simple black magic, as most of Western people think. In reality, it is a rich and complex religion which makes sense and gives order to the life of millions of believers. Along the coast of Benin and Togo, voodoo is the most spread religion, passing on from the ancestors to the new generation.
In these places you can attend ceremonies during which percussions and songs calls the Voodoo for taking possession of the believers, giving rise to authentic manifestations of trance. The oracles practice the “Fa”, an esoteric divination technique that consists in the art of combining proverbs, images, ability to intuit, interpret and explain.
Every year, on January 10th, Benin celebrates the ancestral cults that are the foundation of the various forms of traditional religion practiced in the country. On this day, all the voodoo adepts from the south of the country meet in Ouidah. A large procession of adepts, those on foot, those on motorbikes, those in taxi brousse, go to the Door of Non-Return. The party riches its best when the Dagbo Houno, the supreme feticheur of Ouidah arrives. In the afternoon, Egun masks meet in a large square to dance, drive away bad spirits and launch themselves into the crowd for a “bullfight” in which they almost act as “guards and thieves”. In the evening, Ouidah, exhausted, but not yet completely satisfied, continues the party in the intimacy of the courtyards.
The festivals of Benin: Gelede Masks
Gelede is linked to Mother Earth, to the seasons and to its agricultural rites, in order to propitiate the fertility of the fields and people, the only and true condition of joy and serenity. Colours, movements, drums and crowds merge into one lively choreography. Masks with marionette movements tell moral and humorous stories for the education and entertainment of the villages. For tourists who experience it for the first time, the burlesque side of the pantomimes staged by the masks certainly stands out: only the initiated know its symbolic and secret aspects.
These masks represent the spirits of the dead. In fact, according to the local population, Egun masks “are” the deceased. The masks come from the bush wearing bright and colourful clothes, parades down the streets of the village, suddenly start chasing the curious and careless spectators. Be careful not to be touched by Egun: it represents a warning of death! When it enters the scene, there is a kind of bullfight that arouses fear, but also a lot of hilarity.
A large mask covered with colored straw, Zangbeto represents the non-human spirits, the forces of nature and the night that inhabited the earth even before mankind. The bearers of the masks belong to a secret society and their identity is unknown to the uninitiated. The masks must retain an independent entity, having its own life. The exit of Zangbeto is a great celebration for the village because it means protection of the spirits and keeps danger presences away. The swirling of the mask symbolizes the spiritual cleansing that Zangbeto produces in the village and the “miracles” ensures that its almighty presence is truly effective.
Festival for the celebration of the end of the Yam harvest, the staple food of West African cuisine. Voodoo ceremonies and mask performances represent the climax of the celebration.