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 Tamberma 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 travelers 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 the main ingredients of the staple diet in West Africa. In August, the population of the Central Regions of Benin gathers around notables and kings to celebrate a ritual of continuity. Eating together the new tubers bring two meanings. On 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 of the tour will always attend the following events:
– an interesting voodoo ceremony
– a spectacular fire dance
– an “Ashanti funeral”: a 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 – TOGO
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city that was a colony of the Germans, the British, and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world bordering another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the lifestyle 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 reminiscence 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 that 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 to God; in our voodoo shrines, we become Gods! “
DAY 3: “Brazilian” city, from Agbodrafo to Ouidah – 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 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”. By foot, we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a small but interesting museum on the history of Ouidah and the transatlantic slave trade. 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: Royal Palace, from Ouidah to Savalou – 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 colored paddles. Aboard these canoes men fish, women expose goods at the “floating market”, and children go to school and play.
Once returned to the mainland we drive to Abomey where we visit the Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. At the height of power, the King has up to 4,000 wives living in the harem. Nowadays the royal palace is a museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it displays items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes, and weapons. A Kingdom whose economy was for a long time based on the slave trade: a permanent state of war made it possible for the kings to capture thousands of prisoners whom then they sold as slaves. The royal army included a female battalion feared for its boldness and cruel war behavior. In the center of the royal courtyard, we discover a temple built with a mixture of clay.
DAY 5: Yam Festival (transfers) – BENIN
We join a village to participate in the Yam festival.
From libations on new crops to festive lunches and final dances in the afternoon.
Full insight into a village celebration.
DAY 6: Fetish hills, from Dassa to Natitingou – BENIN
Today is a long but intense day. The first stop will be at Dankoli Fetish, a unique shrine for ancient animistic cults still practiced. Thousands of short sticks are pushed in and all around the fetish as a testimony of the countless prayers for a good harvest, a happy wedding, an easy delivery, success at school, etc. Once the prayers are answered, people come back to sacrifice what they had promised. Fresh traces of sacrifice, palm alcohol, and oil on the fetish are witnesses of the many prayers and requests been fulfilled.
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 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 a 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, witness the populations who in the past have lived in these places.
We may come across young initiated, wearing only a cover sex and magical amulets, or elders fetishes priest wearing a skin. Taneka believes 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 – BENIN & TOGO
We enter the land of Somba & Tamberma 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 after layer of clay, 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 beliefs. 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 in the Atakora Mountains to escape Muslim slave traders coming from the north.
In the evening, we arrive at the villages of the Tem tribe to discover the fire dance. At the center 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 a matter of courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.
DAY 8: Witches, from Sokode to Tamale – TOGO – GHANA
Ghana border. The Dagomba tribe lives in this savanna region. They build round clay huts with a thatched roofs. The village chief’s house is characterized, at the entrance of its compound, by a large hut with a central pole supporting the roof. It is here that the council of elders meets. The entrance is framed by pieces of burnt-colored clay.
In one of these villages, we meet a very large settlement of… witches, exiled from their villages. We will discuss with them their life in the village and how they are protected by a special shrine, in charge of “cleaning” their spirits from bad wills.
DAY 9: Sacred monkeys, from Tamale to Techiman – GHANA
Transfer to the South. Stop to visit Fulani encampments.
In the Brong Afo region, we will leave the main road and follow a track to a sacred forest. The population living there considers the Monas and Colobus monkeys as their totems. As a result, we have the largest community of these species in the world.
Walk in the forest through giant trees and an emerald green light. We will meet plenty of sacred monkeys.
DAY 10: Ashanti, from Techiman to Kumasi – 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 independent Ghana. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (King) is the best evidence of their past splendor 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 Center: a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts 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 of hers. The chief arrives surrounded by his court of him under the shade of large umbrellas while drums give rhythm to the dancers whose intricate moves are highly symbolic of war and erotic meanings.
DAY 11: Golden Kingdoms, Kumasi – 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 a few Ashanti villages with traditional clothing and carving.
DAY 12: Slaves’ Castles, from Kumasi to Anomabu – 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 the 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 kilometers 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 rainforest. At this height, instead of revealing their trunks, the trees offer a breathtaking 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 colorful fishing boats – every day these large wooden pirogues are 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 colorful statues. The alleys in the old town have a very lively atmosphere,
DAY 14: Metropolis, from Anomabu to Accra – 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’s historic neighborhood, inhabited by the Ga people. Facing the Ocean is where native people’s 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 to a workshop specialized in “fantasy coffins”. These unique handcrafted coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, or airplanes…. the only limit is imagination! Started in Accra, these flamboyant coffin designs are now collected worldwide and exposed in museums.
In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out.