January 10: What happens at Benin Republic's annual Voodoo festival?
The Voodoo festival is celebrated every year on January 10 all over Benin Republic, and operates almost like other religions — with a "pope", priests and devotees.
Centuries before colonial masters and missionaries came to this part of the world, voodoo had been a staple practice of the people. While some countries were made to believe their voodoo religion was completely bad, some parts were left to practice their heritage.
In Benin Republic, Togo, and some parts of Nigeria, for example, the practice of voodoo and its rituals is still rife till today.
The very revered Temple of the Pythons alone organizes the annual Voodoo festival or Fête du Vodoun, that draws over 10,000 people from all over the world — especially Haiti and Brazil — to come pay homage to the fetish.
The Ouidah Voodoo festival is celebrated annually on January 10, which is a public holiday in Benin.
Voodoo as a religion is practiced by 17% of Beninese. It was recognised as a major religion in Benin in 1996 but the first Voodoo Festival was inaugurated in 1993. It became a national holiday on 10 January 1998.
What actually happens
The central belief of voodoo is that everything is spirit, including humans.
The festival's aim is to rehabilitate the traditions and cultures of voodoo, as well as "celebrate the humanistic value of the traditional religions that form the basis of African spirituality and to reclaim the identity and dignity of black Africans."
The celebrations of voodoo are often characterised by animal sacrifices, dances in a trance and initiation. Song and dance are preceded by the ritual slaughter of a goat to honour the deities such as Gou the god of Iron, Elegbara the Messenger, Kokou the Warrior, Zangbeto the guardian of the Night, Mami Wata goddess of Water, etc.
You could see the traditional chiefs, shamans, voodoo worshippers make the ancestral cult practices such as killing chickens and goats, snake worshipping, drinking lots of spirits like gin, and dances which are done when worshippers have been possessed by dead ancestors.
The tranced worshippers usually spray their face with white talcum to indicate they are in a trance.
Voodoo Festival as a tourist attraction
Ouidah, modern Benin has become known as the home of African Voodoo. Now, Voodoo Festival has become a fixture on travel itineraries of people all around the world who either want to come to celebrate, witness or just feel good.
The festival holds from Ouidah to Cotonou, along the beaches and in towns. Aside from the spooky attraction of the country, Benin has all that most tourists look out for — tropical climate, palm-fringed beaches, national parks and some pretty extraordinary sites of historical interest.
In Ouidah alone, where the Voodoo festival happens, there is the famous Temple des pythons, Route Des Esclaves or "Slave Route" and Door of no return. There's also the exclusive Nature Luxury Lodge which is a lakehouse in Ouidah and Casa del papa which is full of exciting activities.
In Grand Popo, where the reclusive Voodoo village is located, there are stretches of beautiful beaches and exclusive hotels.
Voodoo Festival, which draws tourists from Haiti, Brazil, New Orleans, and around the world, is therefore peak travel period in Benin republic. Hospitality businesses are definitely cashing out from visitors with interest in the fetish, who come for the Voodoo Festivals during these periods.
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