History and Culture | Solo trip to Benin Republic
"The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands". – Sir Richard Burton
Ouidah (pronounced as 'Whydah or Widah') is the birthplace of Voodoo and land of unlimited snakes. People have said it countlessly, but an experience will convince you. I loved every single moment I spent in the town and definitely can't wait to return. Okay, that's the summary. Now.....
I proceeded on a trip from Lagos straight to Benin Republic but more specifically, Ouidah town. The ABC transport was three hours behind schedule, plus we had a long stop at the Seme Border, so I was unable to explore Benin Republic as planned. I initially wanted to tour Cotonou before heading to Ouidah. As you must have read, Benin Republic in general is one of the most interesting countries in the region because of its slave history and voodoo culture.
I paid a taxi about 5,000 Fcfa from the ABC park at Cotonou to Ouidah. The drive took about half an hour. With all the delays from the transport, I was looking forward to chilling at the beaches in Casa Del Papa.
On arriving Ouidah, a town on the Atlantic coast, I was welcomed with a structure (first picture below) and gate post that read “Cite historique de Ouidah” which translates to “The historic city of Ouidah”. I noticed quite a number of colonial buildings and voodoo like sculptures.
Ouidah which was created in the XVI century was meeting point for trading slaves. In the midst of statues of gods, slaves were led to the “Gate of no return”. Hmmm........quite a bitter history for Africans. More explanations with pictures below.
THE HISTORIC CITY OF OUIDAH.
This is the entrance into the town
OUIDAH MUSEUM OF HISTORY.
The Museum of History in Ouidah (previously Portuguese Fort) gives you a thorough feel of the sad and dark history of the town. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, this is where nearly a million people were kept and taken from Africa and across the Atlantic ocean to Europe and Americas (especially Cuba and Brasil) to live and die as slaves. Camera inside the museum is restricted as there are so many gory images of the past.
There is so much history about Benin and their voodoo religion here. I learnt that the kings show their strength of power by chopping off his enemy’s head. "The first Benin Flag was actually filled with Human heads to show off the king’s power".
TREE OF FORGETFULNESS MONUMENT
Seen on the way to my hotel is the “Tree of Forgetfulness”. It is the tree slaves were forced to dance around in a Voodoo ceremony which was intended to make them forget about their families, land and their customs. Men were walked around the tree 9 times, and women 7 times. From the then Portuguese Fort, the slaves where transported here for the ceremony. Phew, the Beninese went through a lot.
DOORS OF NO RETURN.
This is the infamous Door of No Return. I can only imagine the pains that still exist amongst the people of this town. From the ceremony at the tree of forgetfulness, slaves where moved here for shipping to other continents.
Okay, let me just drop it here, I didn't go in. Lmao! I couldn't see myself passing through that door especially given that this was a solo trip. Plus I had heard so much about the voodoo in the land that staying outside was the best option.
Now back to the story. This is the home to over 60+ snakes. The guide told me there is some sort of ceremony that occurs in the temple every January. While the world fears snakes, the Benin's worship them and they are called royal snakes or serpent deities.
The entry fee is 1,000 FCFA, but for an additional fee of about 1,000 FCFA visitors can have a photograph with a sacred python draped around the neck.
BASILICA OF OUIDAH
Funny how just right opposite the catholic basilica which represents the Christian influence, is the python temple where snakes are royals.
CASA DEL PAPA
What can I say of Casa del papa?! It is the best place to stay at Ouidah. It is calm with loads of water activities. More importantly, the rooms face the beach. It is clean and peaceful, more like the perfect place away from home. The meal though. I will blog separately about this hotel.
The resort is a perfect place to relax and forget about all the black magic I heard about during the day. It cost about 45,000 Fcfa
Final thoughts on visiting Benin Republic
Benin Republic is an intensely spiritual country which holds a lot of history especially in the slave era. At the end of soaking in so much culture and history, it was rejuvenating to relax at a nice beach at Casa Del Papa. Everyone needs to experience this country and see all its scars from the past and the bright future it holds. You can also go on a safari at Pendjari National Park.
Travel tips for Benin Republic
Travel with a popular West Africa transport like ABC or better still take a flight directly to Lome
Speak french (a plus)
Have all your documents (passport and yellow card) ready
Change your currency to Central African Franc. I changed at Eko hotel
Ask before you take pictures, reason being that people are paranoid about voodoo
Wear your pricing hat especially with the taxis
Carry mosquito repellent
Go! It is a beautiful place