Monday 28 December 2015


In the tiny West African nation of Benin, Voodoo remains the state religion. Enter a world of python temples, haystack cults and oozing fetish shrines...
Barefoot, I stepped onto a putrefying mound of candle wax, palm oil and the feathers and blood of sacrificed goats and chickens. I was ready to converse with the spirit god Dankoli. In a shady woodland glade before the charred tree-stump fetish, adorned with jawbones, I hammered a wooden peg into the gooey shrine. After beseeching the god to grant my wish, I sealed our deal by anointing the shrine with blood-red palm oil and spitting out three mouthfuls of fiery homemade gin.

"If your wish comes true," reminded Pascal, the Voodoo attendant, "you must return to sacrifice two chickens to Dankoli."

I won't reveal what I wished for. Anyhow this was not my real inspiration for visiting Benin, a peaceful democratic West African minnow squeezed between Nigeria and Togo. My true motivation was The Viceroy of Ouidah, a lyrical novella by Bruce Chatwin. Written nearly 30 years ago, it tells of Dom Francisco de Silva, a 19th-century Brazilian migrant who became Benin's most notorious slave trader.

Chatwin's narrative of bloodthirsty African kings, slavery, and French and Portuguese ambitions, is enthralling. Yet what really captivated me were the tales of Voodoo, a practice that is still followed by over 60% of Beninese today and considered the state religion.

•Culled from Wanderlust travel magazine.

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