Ouidah Voodoo Festival
|BETWEEN||Accra and Accra|
|COUNTRIES VISITED – 3||Ghana, Togo and Benin|
|MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE||12|
|WHATS NOT INCLUDED||
Discover the voodoo traditions of a magical land. On this three country tour of Ghana, Togo and Benin we take you right to the heart of the magic of Africa. We cross the spectrum from the tragic history of the slave trade, traditional villages to royal palaces. From fetish markets to the highlights of the annual voodoo festival in Ouidah, this is a diverse and exciting trip that is both a great introduction to the region and of equal appeal to first time and seasoned travellers to Africa.
Ouidah Voodoo Festival
We start in Accra for convenience for flights, then cross into Togo, a tiny but rather intriguing country with a wide array of different ethnic groups and cultures. Our first introduction to traditional beliefs is at the bizarre fetish market of Lome before crossing into Benin and heading to Ouidah. Here we witness the extraordinary spectacle of the annual voodoo festival, attended by worshippers from across the country – this is one of Africa’s most vibrant ceremonies and once seen, never forgotten. Moving on we visit royal palaces, explore the unique villages of the Tamberma and are guests at a fire dance. Back in Ghana we meet witches, traditional chiefs and delve into the tragic history of the slave trade at Elmina.
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Day 1: Accra
Arrive in Accra and transfer to your hotel. For those arriving early in the day, the rest of the day is free to explore. Overnight Accra City Hotel or similar.
Ghana’s capital is one of Africa’s biggest cities, with the inevitable traffic, noise and mayhem. Despite being a fast growing, lively city, the people are friendly and welcoming and maintain many aspects of their tribal African roots. The National Museum houses one of West Africa’s best ethnographic, historical and art collections, which gives a good introduction to Ghana and surrounding areas. The old quarter of Jamestown is the heart of the old colonial town and is inhabited by the Ga people, who founded Accra in the 16th century. There are numerous bustling markets to explore where you can discover everything from food, clothing and household goods to traditional crafts. Most interesting is the area where coffins are made –here they make them with the most outlandish designs, in the shape of fish, aeroplanes, or just about anything else you can think of.
Day 2: Accra – Lome
Day 3: Lome – Ouidah
Explore the city including its central markets and the fascinating – if rather gruesome –fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. We also meet a traditional healer who can cast more light on the traditional customs found here. Later, we cross into Benin and head to Ouidah for the night. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)
Togo’s capital is a vibrant city situated on the coast, sitting right on the international border with Ghana and with a population of just under a million. Slightly dishevelled, it is quite an atmospheric little city and is now recovering from the civil disturbances suffered by the country in the 1990s. Its origins date back to the 18th Century, when it was settled by the Ewe people, one of Togo’s largest ethnic groups. Like many African cities it doesn’t have too much in the way of formal sightseeing but there are a few things worth exploring –the Grand Marche with its exuberant businesswomen known as ‘Nana Benz’ who monopolise the sale of cloth in Togo. Not to be missed is the fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. This is not a great place for animal lovers, with heads and body parts of everything from sharks and crocodiles to gorillas on sale, but offers a fascinating insight into a belief system very different from our own. Lome has a number of buildings which date from the German occupation, most noticeable of which is a rather bizarre looking 19th century Gothic style cathedral which looks rather out of place in a West African city.
Day 4: Ouidah Voodoo Festival
On the 10th January each year Benin holds a national celebration day in honour of its traditional religion and of the cults associated with it. Ouidah in particular is a focus for these ceremonies, and thousands of adepts, traditional chiefs and fetish priests gather here to perform fascinating rites and rituals. This is an amazing opportunity to witness the traditional culture of the region, where devotees assume the identity of gods and spirits and the realm of the magical is close at hand. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)
Voodoo, or Vodoun as it is known here, is one of the most important religions in this part of West Africa. Forget what you may have seen on TV about it being a form of black magic – here it has the same legitimacy as any other belief system and has been adopted as an official religion by Benin. Voodoo is a complex and intricate way of seeing of the world, with literally hundreds of different gods responsible for various areas of daily life – some are benevolent, some less so, and in order to communicate with them and ask for favours local people will seek the assistance of followers, or adepts. There are numerous voodoo temples scattered around the coastal regions of both Benin and Togo, each headed by a priest who for a suitable donation will intercede on your behalf. Voodoo is not limited to the temples though and traveling around the region it is not likely that you will see some ceremony being carried out. Also worth looking out for are the Egunguns – earthly manifestations of the dead who roam the streets in outlandish costumes, striking fear into the heart of local people. Sacrifice and blood are important within voodoo rituals, and any ceremony worth its salt is likely to involve a chicken being killed, its blood spilled onto a shrine in order to seal the pact. You’re also likely to see fetishes dotted around villages – these are inanimate objects such as rocks or trees in which a spirit is believed to reside, often covered in candle wax, feathers and blood where sacrifices have been made. Gaining some understanding of voodoo allows you a glimpse into a magical world where nothing is quite as it seems, and is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of travelling here.
Founded in the fifteenth century and made famous by Bruce Chatwin’s novel, ‘The Viceroy of Ouidah’, Ouidah was once a centre for the slave trade in this part of West Africa and many of its buildings bear witness to a strong European influence. As well as a rather imposing and out of place cathedral, Afro-Brazilian architecture and crumbling colonial buildings, the Portuguese fort holds an interesting history museum which gives an insight into the past life of the town. Of equal interest is the Python Temple, where acollection of snakes are venerated as earthly representations of voodoo gods. A thought provoking excursion is the 3km walk along the ‘Slave Route’, where those boarding the boats across the Atlantic were herded like cattle to the shore. At the end on the beach lies the modern ‘Gate of No Return’, built in memory of the thousands who never made it back.
Day 5: Ganvie – Abomey
Today we head out onto Lake Nokwe to visit Ganvie, the largest stilt village in Africa situated in the middle of the water. The ‘village’ is home to around 25,000 people, most of whom go about their daily lives without setting foot on dry land. From here we continue to Abomey, once the centre of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey, and home to an impressive Royal Palace. The palace is now a museum displaying various artefacts from that time. Overnight Hotel Dako or similar. (BLD)
On Lake Nokwe lies the stilt village of Ganvie, a settlement of 25,000 people isolated from the land and only accessible by boat. Legend has it that the Tofinou people fled here in the 18th century to escape the depredation of the more powerful Dahomeyans on the lookout for slaves, and that they were transported to their new home by crocodiles. Whatever the truth behind it, Ganvie is an interesting place to drift through in a boat, watching how people go about their daily lives on the water, stopping at local markets watching the fishermen casting their nets, and is far removed from the busy towns making this a real delight to explore. The market on the mainland is also worth a look, if only for the rather gruesome section dedicated to voodoo.
Once the capital of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey, Abomey gained a notorious reputation as the centre of a fierce civilisation, whose rulers preyed mercilessly on the surrounding tribes as they conquered neighbouring lands and captured slaves. During the ‘Scramble for Africa’ Dahomey put up strong resistance against the French colonial armies but in the end were no match for modern weapons, and the kingdom fell in 1892, its king Gbehanzin setting fire to the city. Abomey had been renowned for its palaces, and although many were lost, two still remain which give the visitor a fascinating insight into this once mighty nation. Now museums, they contain a number of interesting exhibits from earlier times, the most impressive of which is a throne which sits on top of human skulls. Also worth a look is the nearby temple whose walls are said to have been made with the blood of enemies.
Day 6: Savalou – Sokode
Day 7: Tamberma Villages
We head into the lands of the Tamberma, one of the region’s most traditional groups who live in fortified houses known as ‘tatas’– quite a spectacular sight. Overnight Hotel Kara or similar. (BLD)
The Tamberma people
The Tamberma are one of the region’s most intriguing and traditional groups. Straddling the border between Togo and Benin (where they are known as Somba), they live deep in the bush in fortress style houses which are utterly unlike anything else. Rather than settling in villages each family has its own compound, an arrow’s flight from anyone else, and the mud built dwellings, known as ‘tatas’ are built for defence, with strong walls and traditionally only accessed via a ladder which would be withdrawn in times of trouble. Inside the tatas are separate areas for people, livestock and grain, and some contain wells, meaning that the inhabitants could hole up for days when slave raiders came, making attacks on the Tamberma a far less attractive proposition than weaker, less defensive peoples. Although modern influences are now starting to creep in, the Tamberma are still very traditional and it’s possible to see groups of men heading off into the bush to hunt, armed with bows and arrows and accompanied by their bogs, while many of the older women still wear polished bones through their lower lips and wear impressive headgear adorned with gazelle horns.
Day 8: Tamale
Day 9: Boabeng-Fiema – Techiman
Day 10: Kumasi
Continue to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city and home of the old Ashanti Kingdom. Explore the city including the Ashanti Cultural Centre, which gives a great insight into what once was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region. If possible, we will be able to see a traditional Ashanti funeral, quite a spectacle at which visitors are welcome. Overnight Miklin Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. With its population of nearly one million, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market where traders from all over Africa come to sell their wares. Every kind of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, kente cloth) is found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit, vegetable, and provision. We visit the Ashanti Cultural Centre, which has a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts, housed in a reproduction of a traditional Ashanti royal house.
The Ashanti people were one of the most powerful nations in Africa until the end of the 19th century, when the British annexed Ashanti country, bringing it into their Gold Coast colony. Originally from the northern savannah regions, the Ashanti people migrated south, carving farms out of the wild rainforest. The region was rich in gold, and trade in this precious metal developed quickly, with small tribal states developing and vying for control ofresources. In the late 17th century the Ashanti ruler brought these states together in a loose confederation and the Ashanti Kingdom was born. Their social organisation is centred on the Ashantehene figure, the king of all the Ashanti. The Ashanti are the lords of the gold, so they dress themselves with it during ceremonies. The Ashanti Kingdom was famed for its gold, royalty, ceremony and the development of a bureaucratic judicial system.
Day 11: Kumasi – Anomabu
Day 12: Elmina – Accra
We visit the fishing town of Elmina, best known for St George’s Castle, the oldest European building in Africa and once used as holding centre for slaves. In the two itself we explore the old quarter with its unique Posuban shrines, made by the traditional ‘asafo’ societies which were once responsible for local defence. From here we drive back to Accra, where day use rooms are available to freshen up before your flight. Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (BL)
The pretty town of Elmina is dominated by the whitewashed St George’s Castle, which dates back to the 15th century. The fort is a rather sombre place when you realise that this is where slaves were held awaiting transportation to the new world, and the cells which they were held in still remain. Elmina is also home to the smaller Fort St Jago, perched on a hill and overlooking the town, as well as a 19th century Dutch cemetery, and the fishing harbour is a delight to explore, with colourful boats and fishermen bringing in their daily catch.
Tour Dossier Notes
Airport transfers – Native Eye Travel includes arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip– in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
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Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.