We crossed the border into Benin on a Sunday afternoon after an uneventful hour long drive across narrow Togo from Lome. The border crossing was also uneventful, the officials at both sides of the border were polite and professional.
Timing was great for a late afternoon arrival at Auberge de Grand Popo, a very laid back beach spot along the western coast Benin near the Mono River. Its features include an almost idyllic campsite set just back from the beach among trees. There are basic sanitation facilities for campers, but the restaurant and small pool set in bushes are only a short walk down a path. We are here in the off season so it is very quiet, but we really liked this place and it was from here that we made our first foray into the culture and environment of Benin.
Many African countries have varying degrees of voodoo traditions but Benin is considered to be the source. Most of the slaves that were exported from here went to Haiti and Brazil, and took with them beliefs and practices that are known as voodoo. To understand this better we hired a guide to take us into a so-called “voodoo village”. It was a good place to go because we are off what tourist circuit as exists here, so there did not appear to be any thing being put on for tourists. The guide we went with takes people there so they are accustomed to visitors and were somewhat accommodating, we had schnapps at 11:00 AM with the voodoo priest, who had just buried his son, who died at age 50.
The principal physical manifestation of the culture consists of several simple, occasionally disturbing, shrines constructed throughout the village.
There are many different “gods” serving many purposes. There was an overal “Dieu protecteur du village”, another for good fishing, another to protect against smallpox, etc etc. Some are figurative, others appear to be collections of assorted materials, almost like found art.
Our visit also gave us the opportunity to see some community development in action. The village was in the process of constructing a maternity wing on the health centre and needed to raise the level of the land to prevent flooding. The site was at one end of the village, at the other end end was a huge pile of sand that had been dredged from the Mono River. There were about 10 men shovelling sand into a big old dump truck (which did not seem to have brakes, someone had to thr0w down a block of wood in front of a tire to make it stop!) , at the other end there were as many women taking the sand dumped by the truck into pans and distributing it around the site.