Welcome to Benin (2) : The city of Ouidah

Ouidah is a small coastal city located in the South of Benin rich historically and culturally. The city is well known for her role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Like Goree Island in Senegal or the city of Cape Coast in Ghana, Ouidah coasts have witnessed the export of millions of slaves.

The Slaves Route of Ouidah is a complete inhuman journey.

After their selection at Chacha Place, chained slaves were sent to the Tree of Forgetfulness. They had to turn around this tree Nine times for the men and Seven times for the women. The goal of this ritual was to make them forget their whole identity: origin, culture, tradition. Before boarding in the negro ships, the slaves were imprisoned in the “last village”, in extreme maltreatment conditions and the less resistant, which at the end died, were thrown into a common pit.

The Survivors were led to the Tree of Return were, once again they had to turn around the Tree three times, so that their spirit could return to their motherland if they died during the journey. The last step was the beach, at the point where today is the monument of the Door of No Return, for an eternal departure from their homeland, a perilous journey in barbaric and disastrous conditions and towards a hell from which only Death could save them.

The door of No Return, Ouidah, Benin

Facing the Ocean I was overwhelmed with emotion as every time I visited Goree Island. Everything was so quiet and so peaceful and it was hard to imagine the drama that happened in this place. How many destroyed families? How many died in the “last village”? How many died in this infinite blue? I was thinking about the late Joseph N’Diaye the long-time curator of the House of Slaves in Goree and a Powefurl Library of the Slave Trade History. He was the famous guide of the House of Slaves and used to tell the story of the Atlantic Slave Trade with this same trembling voice full of emotion. I remembered Alex Haley’s popular book Roots and the heartbreaking story of Kounta Kinte. I also had in mind Segou, this book of Maryse Conde where through the story of Thiekoro Traore and his family, she explained how Slave Trade disconnected families forever. Yes, the world have this duty of Memory of this dark part of Our Mama Africa.

Ouidah is also known to host the famous Temple of Pythons, a temple with several royal Pythons. For the fans of reptiles and big thrill, it’s perfect. You can take pictures of you with a snake around your neck. They are not dangerous they said… (It doesn’t change this fact: I will neveeeeer put a snake around my neck). In the temple of Pythons you can also learn a lot on the Voodoo culture, actually every year in Benin there is the Voodoo Festival and the one in Ouidah gather visitors from all over the world.The entrance of the temple is marked by this impressive old Baobab of more than a century. My first objective when visiting Ouidah was to have an overview of the Slaves Route.

The Temple of Python, Ouidah, Benin

I knew that the visit of the Temple of Pythons would be but impossible to go to Ouidah and miss this must. At least I will look at the Snakes from afar …

At the entrance of the Temple I was taken from a strange feeling, and the imposing Baobab standing over The temple and its area was not helping. I froze, had goosebumps … strange feeling? Paranoia? Extreme Fear? …However I couldn’t get out of the car. I stayed inside the car while the group went for their visit, praying that this Baobab under which we were parked was not infested with Pythons.

Ouidah stayed traditional and authentic which gives her this crazy charm. In one day we visited the city and learnt a lot. Our guide recommended us to come back during the Festival Voodoo where there was more to see and learn.

A. Adventurer

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