Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Benin's voodoo heartland

Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:22am EDT
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By Joe Brock

OUIDAH, Benin (Reuters) - The small club-shaped West African country of Benin is not on most tourists' radar but its palm-fringed white sand beaches in the south and surprisingly good wildlife parks in the dusty north will reward more intrepid travelers.

It has some of the best and cheapest food in the region, blending French and African influences. But the biggest reason to visit is the country's rich and intriguing history; for hundreds of years it was at the mercy of the slave trade and it remains famous for being the birthplace of voodoo.

Voodoo is the official religion for 17 percent of Beninese, although almost everyone incorporates it into their lives. Originally is was called "vodun" meaning: 'the hidden'. Voodoo centers around several vodun spirits and deities.

Traditional priests are consulted for their power to harness the spirits through rituals that often involve the sacrifice of a chicken or goat. It is seen as essential to call upon the spirits for protection or prosperity and they can be used for malicious ends. Commonly seen are fetishes; an object, sometimes a doll, which is blessed with a spirit's power.

If you can, visit Benin on January 10, the official Voodoo Day with celebrations all over the country.

The small town of Ouidah on the Atlantic coast is the cradle of voodoo, a culture far from the image projected in Hollywood in films featuring Indiana Jones and James Bond.

A Reuters correspondent with local knowledge helps you get the most out of a weekend trip to this magical spot.

Friday   Continued...

Haitians participate in a voodoo ritual under a sacred ceibo tree called Lisa, on the third day of the annual week-long gathering in the Souvenance community April 1, 2013. Hundreds of Haitians participate in the ceremonies which begin the Saturday before Easter in Souvenance, where descendants of the people of Dahomey, a former kingdom in what is now present-day Benin, show their devotion to their ancestors and various lwa, or spirits. REUTERS/Marie Arago