There are places where the interweaving of times and spaces makes understanding difficult. Phenomena emerge from different tectonic layers of existence, mutating into apparitions that dissuade the simple, linear and superficial narrative.
To penetrate this complex reality is an almost impossible task for those who do not participate in the cultural atmosphere in which the daily plot unfolds.
One of these places is Benin, a West African country of great ethnic diversity.
Despite this, the chronicler tries to sketch in four superimposed vignettes an incomplete portrait of what is lived there today.
The Vodun festival
January 10 officially marks the beginning of the Vodun Festival, an ancestral African religion practiced by the Aja, Ewe and Fon peoples in Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria and which was transferred by the diaspora generated by slavery to different parts of America, where it continues to live in its original form or in creative syncretisms.
The Vodun cosmology (or Voodoo, spirit in the Fon, Gun and Ewe languages) is very rich in the presence of spirits of divine essence of different power and size, which govern the Earth, the elements and social life. Likewise, the physically dead continue to live from their spaces with the living, which sustains the cult to the ancestors they profess.
In the festival, followers dressed in white enter the ocean to pay homage to Mami Wata, goddess of the sea. A ceremony that has its almost identical replica on the other side of the ocean, on the coasts of the Brazilian Northeast.
Accompanied by drums and dances and dressed in colorful tunics and traditional costumes, the festival continues with the “Zangpeto” rituals, involving dancers with whirling movements called the “guardians of the night”.
The Vodun festival in Benin, which for centuries was part of the kingdom of Dahomey, originates in the coastal town of Ouidah, where there is an arch, called the “Door of No Return”, in memory of those who were captured on slave ships and taken in shackles from that beach to the New World.
Ouidah, memory of atrocity as a tourist attraction
According to the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and Tourism Development, under the Beninese presidency, the “Marina Project” envisions the creation of a theme park that “will position Benin as a flagship destination for memorial tourism.”
The coastal development is located in what was once the main slave port of the Bay of Benin. Nearly two million enslaved Africans departed from this region during the transatlantic slave trade. At its peak, between 1790 and 1860, Ouidah was controlled by the kingdom of Dahomey.
Anchored just a few meters from the Hotel Benin, a life-size replica of a slave ship called the “departure ship” has even been built.
The government’s goal is to attract millions of Africans, especially from neighboring Nigeria, who feel the call to recreate part of that painful past… and spend their dollars in Benin.
Obviously, not everyone thinks that this is the best way to denounce slavery and honor the memory of the outraged.
The spirit of the people, dissatisfied with the government
While the current government led by Patrice Talon is trying to show that its administration is modernizing the country, the results of the legislative election held this Sunday (8) do not seem to prove him right.
Although there are no definitive figures yet, according to media such as Matin Libre, the population would have disapproved the course maintained by the government since 2016, voting mostly for the candidates of the opposition party Les Democrats. Party that responds to the former president Thomas Boni Yayi and that was banned in the presidential election of 2021 and that could only participate in this election of assemblymen due to the management of the Supreme Court of the country.
According to the calendar, the autonomous electoral commission (Céna) is expected to announce the provisional results this Wednesday 11, although this could be delayed until the end of the week.
Extremist violence in the North
Benin shares borders with four countries, Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, all of which are victims of violent fundamentalist extremism.
Most of Benin’s population is concentrated in the southern coastal area, with a much lower population density in the north, which is exploited by armed groups trying to take control of the territory. Added to this is the lack of social protection that the inhabitants of these areas suffer from the State, which increases their defenselessness against these groups.
Will the people of Benin be able to resolve the uncertain panorama that afflicts them? The response lies only with its inhabitants.