GHANA, TOGO & BENIN
Our fantastic cultural odyssey to the most remote regions of Ghana, Togo and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds ruled by traditional chiefs and ancient spirits.
Along the coast, in the heart of voodoo original regions we encounter practitioners, watch trance-dances and learn about the great influence voodoo spirits still have on people.
Heading inland from the forest to the savannah, we discover the Taneka tribe on a rocky mountain, the Somba with their fairy-tale clay adobe castles, then an intriguing witches’ village and finally, we enter the Ashanti kingdom in Kumasi forests.
We end our tour exploring the former Gold Coast, with the largest European castles in Africa; centuries remain of gold and slave trade.
Indeed, the most complete and spectacular way to discover West Africa rich patrimony of Tribes, Kingdoms, festivals, and ceremonies
For travellers who want to get acquainted with this unique region … and love Africa!
What is Special about the trip
Yam Festival (Benin) Yam is one of main ingredients of the stable diet in West Africa. In August, the population of Central Regions of Benin gather around notables and kings to celebrate a ritual of continuity. Eating together the new tubers bring two meanings. One the one hand it means thanking the gods and the ancestors for the good harvest and on the other hand it means asking for this to continue for the coming years. The festival goes on with dancing masks and voodoo celebrations.
Apart from this main traditional event, participants to the tour will always attend the following events:
– an interesting voodoo ceremony
– a spectacular fire dance
– an “Ashanti funeral”: festive celebration that consecrates the return of the spirit of an ancestor.
DAY 1: Lome, Gulf of Guinea –TOGO
Arrival in Lome and transfer to the hotel.
DAY 2: Voodoo, from Lome to Agbodrafo (100 km – driving time 3 hr) – TOGO
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city which was a colony of the Germans, the British and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world bordering with another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the life style of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town: Lomé is indeed a cross point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in small size. We will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (=cloths) coming from Europe and sold all over West Africa; the colonial buildings of the administrative quarter where the reminiscent of colonial time is still very present.
We will stop at the fetish market where an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions are to be found.
In a remote village we will join a Voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the adepts call in the voodoo spirits who then take possession of some of the dancers. They fall into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo divinities who can manifest. In this narrow village, surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will finally understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our voodoo shrines we become Gods!”
DAY 3: “Brazilian” city, from Agbodrafo to Ouidah (70 km – driving time 2 hr) – TOGO & BENIN
Benin border crossing (Hilla Kodji / Save Kodji)
Drive to Ouidah. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey Kingdom during the 18th century to become one of the main slave ports. Today Ouidah enjoys an Afro-Brazilian architecture with the python temple facing the Catholic Cathedral. The laid-back attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums – a timeless atmosphere well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. We visit the Python Temple. We end the visit following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of “no return” where slaves were shipped to the “new world”.
DAY 4: Village on stilts, from Ouidah to Savalou (280 km – driving time 5 hr) – BENIN
We cross Lake Nokwe with a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their wooden huts on teak stilts. Fishing is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Daily life unfolds in the dugout canoes that adults and children row with ease using brightly coloured paddles. Aboard these canoes men fish, women expose goods at the “floating market”, children go to school and play.
Once returned to the mainland we drive to Abomey. Meeting with the community of “forgerons,” who have served Dahomey kings for centuries in the production of weapons and other tools. We attend a dancing masks.
DAY 5: Yam Festival (transfers) – BENIN
We join a village to participate to Yam festival.
From libations on new crops to festive lunch and final dances in the afternoon.
Full insight into a village celebration.
DAY 6: Fetish hills, from Savalou to Natitingou (320 km – driving time 6 hr) – BENIN
Drive to the north.
In the afternoon we discover a few old Taneka villages located on a mountain with the same name. The villages are made up of round adobe huts covered with a conical roof protected on the top by a terra cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiated and by the fetish priests who only cover themselves with a goat skin and always carry a long pipe. This ethnic group has been living on an archaeological site for centuries and it looks as if the first inhabitants (from Kabye tribe origins) moved to the mountain during the IXth century. Since then, other ethnic groups have joined thus forming melting-pot where even though each group kept its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined.
As we wander around the villages along alleys bordered by rocks with ancient and mysterious carved marks, only witnesses of populations who in the past have lived in these places.
We may come across young initiated, wearing only with a cover sex and magical amulets, or elders fetishes priest wearing a skin. Taneka believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience and many sacrifices. Initiation is a lifetime process until life itself becomes a rite of passage, therefore life should not be conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather as following a continuous path.
DAY 7: Adobe castles, from Natitingou to Sokode (200 km – driving time 5 hr) – BENIN & TOGO
We enter the land of Somba, who live in adobe fortified dwellings. The shape is like small medieval castles, they are one of the most beautiful examples of traditional African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier vanguard architect that describe it as «sculptural architecture». In fact, the houses are built by hand, layer of clay after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. A kind of sensual gesture mixing strength, care and beauty. Large shrines- of phallic form – at the entrance of their homes show their animistic believes. With the permission granted to us by the elders we enter their homes to better understand their way of life.
Actually their houses are projections of their cosmology – the ground floor, with its darkness, represents death and is the place of the ancestors; the second floor, open to the sky, represents life and is the place where grandmothers keep babies until they “find out” which ancestor has come back as the new life – only then the baby will be allowed to come down from the terrace.
All – family, food supplies and stock – are kept inside the fortified house, for safety reasons in case of attack by enemies. For centuries these populations have been seeking refuge on the Atakora Mountains to escape Muslim slave traders coming from the north.
In the evening, we arrive at the villages of Tem tribe to discover the fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the silhouette of the participants. They dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums eventually leaping into the glowing embers, picking up burning coals, passing them over their bodies and even putting them in their mouths and swallowing them. all this without hurting themselves or showing any sign of pain. It’s difficult to explain such a performance. Is it matter of courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.
DAY 8: Rainforest, from Sokode to Kpalime (290 km – driving time 5 hr) – TOGO
We will head southwards, with a stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African small town built on hills where all the products coming from the nearby forests can be found. Through their skilled work on small weaving looms, men of the region make the large brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”.
From Atakpame we move to the tropical forests surrounding Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important cocoa and coffee trading market. Walk on the hills surrounding Kpalime, trough villages and farms , reaching to edge of the forest. Under the guidance of a local entomologist, we will learn about butterflies and colourful insects.
DAY 9: Glass beads, from Kpalime to Koforidua (220 km – driving time 5 hr) – TOGO – GHANA
Ghana border crossing and continuation to the Volta Region.
Krobo tribe is known for its glass beads. Krobo people produce and wear glass beads for ceremonies and aesthetic purposes. We will visit an artisan community of beads producers and even experience the process of making our own bead. The craftsmen have been producing beads following the same long-lasting traditional technique for centuries. They use scrap glass that is grounded into a fine powder. The glass powder is then meticulously made into patterns and placed into hand-made clay moulds covered in kaolin. The beads are cooked then decorated, washed and eventually strung.
DAY 10: Ashanti, from Koforidua to Kumasi (200 km – driving time 5 hr) – GHANA
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the ancient Ashanti Empire. Ashanti was one of the most powerful empires and kingdoms in Africa from 1670 to 1957 when British Gold Coast become the independent Ghana. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (King) is the best evidence of their past splendour and strength and the still strong Ashanti pride. With nearly two million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling town with a unique central market, one of the largest in Africa. All kinds of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, beads, textiles called Kente cloth, etc.) are found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable.
The program includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre: a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts housed in a wonderful reproduction of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon we participate – if available – in a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. We say “funerals” but it means a “festive” celebration: thanks to this ceremony the deceased return as an ancestor and will protect his family. Relatives and friends gather, socialize, and celebrate his/her memory. The chief arrives surrounded by his court under the shade of large umbrellas while drums give rhythm to the dancers whose intricate moves are highly symbolic in war and erotic meanings.
DAY 11: Golden Kingdoms, Kumasi (transfers) – GHANA
In the morning continuation of the tour of Kumasi, with the visit to the Royal Palace Museum hosting a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court.
One cannot visit Kumasi and the Golden Ashanti kingdom without meeting one of its many traditional kings! We are privileged to be allowed into the courtyard of a great Ashanti chief. Wrapped in traditional cloth and adorned with antique solid gold jewels, he will take a seat under a large colored umbrella and discuss his role as a traditional chief in modern Ghana.
In the afternoon visit to a few Ashanti villages with traditional clothing and carving.
DAY 12: Slaves’ Castles, from Kumasi to Anomabu (250 km – driving time 4 hr) – GHANA
Drive to the coast. The coast of Ghana (formerly known as Gold Coast) has more than 50 ancient forts and castles, reminiscent of the ancient gold, ivory and slave trade.
Cape Coast castle was built by the Swedish in 1653. From 1657 to 1664 it changed hands many times as it was conquered by the Danes, the Dutch, the Fanti (a local tribe), the Swedes and finally the British. Today, it hosts a museum on the history of slave trade.
In Cape Coast, we will also visit Fort William, hosting a lighthouse. From the top of the castle you will enjoy a magnificent view of the town.
DAY 13: Elmina, Anomabu – GHANA
A few kilometres north of the coast, in the middle of a rainforest, we will discover the Kakum National Park. This park gives you a great opportunity to observe the forest from above as Kakum has a canopy walk hung high up in the trees. The Kakum canopy walkway is the longest and highest rope bridge in the world. Walking between 120 to 150 feet above the ground, you will enjoy an incredible view of the rain forest. At this height, instead of revealing their trunks, the trees offer a breath-taking view of their canopies and look as if they were trying to touch the sun and sky above.
Then we reach Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, erected by the Portuguese in the 15th century. At different times the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. The castle we visit today is the result of successive extension works and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old Dutch Cemetery in Elmina goes back to 1806. Outside the castle, there is a spectacular fishing village with lots of large colourful fishing boats – every day these large wooden pirogues conducted by skilled fishermen across strong ocean waves and currents, “fighting” to earn a living. In the old town we will see the Posuban, the shrines of the ancient “Asafo companies” – the warriors who used to put their offerings on the large colourful statues. The alleys in the old town have a very lively atmosphere, bringing us back to a time when Elmina was a busy colonial town.
DAY 14: Metropolis, from Anomabu to Accra (180 km – driving time 3 hr) – GHANA
Drive to Accra.
Accra, the capital of Ghana, has kept its unique identity despite the fast-paced development of the last decades with its modern buildings and large avenues. The luxuriant administrative area, punctuated with elegant villas built during the first half of the 19th century, reminds us that was the most flourishing colony in Africa.
We explore James Town historic neighbourhood, inhabited by Ga people. Facing the Ocean is where native people life fully unfolds: a village surrounded by the city! Here all economic activities follow very different rules from the ones governing “the city” (business area), just a few hundred meters away. We continue with the visit of a workshop specialized in “fantasy coffins”. These unique handcrafted coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, airplanes…. the only limit being imagination! Started in Accra, these flamboyant coffin designs are by now collected worldwide and exposed in museums.
In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out.