For millions of Beninese, voodoo is a skullduggery-free part of everyday life. It does have a dark side – it’s hard to miss the voodoo dolls riddled with nails – but this is only one aspect of it.

Voodoo Festival, Benin

Location

Ouidah, Benin. The main festivities take place on the beach near the Point of No Return monument.

Dates

10 January.

Description

For millions of Beninese, voodoo is a skullduggery-free part of everyday life. It does have a dark side – it’s hard to miss the voodoo dolls riddled with nails – but this is only one aspect of it. Ouidah’s Voodoo Festival, Benin’s most vibrant and colourful festival, is a showcase of its other qualities.

Since 1997, one year after the government officially decreed voodoo a religion (one practiced by around 60% of Benin’s 7.4 million residents), thousands of believers have flocked to Ouidah, the historic centre of voodoo worship, to receive blessings from the city’s voodoo chief. The celebrations begin when the supreme voodoo priest slaughters a goat to honour the spirits, and are marked by much singing, chanting, dancing, beating of drums and drinking of gin. The beach also briefly becomes a racehorse track.

Level of Participation

2 – watch the horses, drink the gin and visit the tents that represent different voodoo sects.

Essentials

Ouidah is 42km west of Cotonou, Benin’s major city. Bush taxis and occasional buses between the cities take around one hour. Good background reading is Bruce Chatwin’s evocative The Viceroy of Ouidah.

Other Local Attractions

The Musée d’histoire d’Ouidah delves into voodoo history. There is a film festival (www.festival-ouidah.org) held in Ouidah at the same time as the Voodoo Festival.

More Info: Benin Tourisme website.

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