In Photos: Benin Voodoo Festival

Benin’s famous Voodoo Festival is celebrated in the city of Ouidah every year in January, involving animal sacrifice, traditional masks and worshippers dressed as clan spirits.
Written by Matthew Sterne
12 November 2020

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Voodoo Festival, or Fête du Vodoun, is a public holiday in Benin that celebrates the nation’s history surrounding the West African religion of Vodoun, popularly known as voodoo. The celebration is held annually on January 10 throughout the country but most notably in the city of Ouidah.

Beginning with the slaughter of a goat in honor of the spirits, the festival is filled with singing, dancing and the drinking of liquor, especially gin. Ritualistic animal sacrifice is common in Vodun. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A variety of talisman, known as ‘fetishes’, are sold in some markets and are believed to hold spirits. The fetishes themselves may be statues or dried human/animal parts. The spirits within each fetish are believed to perform tasks according to their capacity. Source: Reuters
About 60% of Benin’s 6.3 million people practice voodoo. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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One of the largest tourist draws in Benin, the festival is a cultural fete organised by the Fon people. Source: Reuters
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Visitors can spot ceremonial drums, traditional masks, colourful outfits and jewellery as part of the fete. Other common sights are zangbetos, vodun night watchmen whose outfits resemble haystacks, ritual animal sacrifices and worshippers dressed as clan spirits. Source: Reuters
people-benin-voodoo
The festival commemorates the estimated 60 million people who lost their homelands and their freedom during the African slave trade. Slaves were transported from the port town on the Atlantic from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and other parts of West Africa. Source: Romina Facchi
The central belief of voodoo is that everything is spirit, including humans. Source: Reuters
Shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood, voodoo is increasing in popularity with around 17% of the population following it. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Vodoun was officially declared a religion in Benin in 1996. The festival has attracted thousands of devotees and tourists to Ouidah to participate in the festivities ever since. Source: Reuters
The festival uses singing, dancing, processions and alcohol to honour the history of the religion in West Africa. Source: Reuters
Jim O’Brien, from Native Eye Travel, explains what you can expect at the Voodoo Festival: “It is really quite spectacular. It’s become slightly touristy over the last few years but it’s still worth seeing. All the voodoo churches come down. People dress up as gods and they believe that they become that god during that time. So you get a particular sect of voodoo and they take on the characteristics and personality of that god. Some of the costumes are very, very elaborate; one group called the Zangbeto dresses in really colourful straw skirts which cover their entire bodies, so they actually just appear to be an entire cone of straw running around. You have another group called the Egungun. In pre-colonial times they performed the function of a police force almost, in terms of keeping things in order, because people are absolutely terrified of them – if you touch one of them then you die! It’s quite something to see.” Source: unknown
It’s a week that brings together priests and dignitaries, rich and poor, locals and visitors from as far afield as the Caribbean and France. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Voodoo spread to the Americas with the slave trade and combines elements including philosophy and medicine. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The gathering includes traditional dance and animal sacrifices at shrines, with some devotees entering trance states. Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Visitors can spot ceremonial drums, traditional masks, colourful outfits and jewellery as part of the fete. Other common sights are zangbetos, vodoo night watchmen whose outfits resemble haystacks, ritual animal sacrifices and worshippers dressed as clan spirits. Source: Unknown
The festival is a time when ordinary people from all over Benin get a rare chance to rub shoulders with kings and queens in expensive African attire. Source: Unknown

 

 

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