Synonymous with voodoo and slavery, both terrifying spectres viewed by many as brutal and outdated, Benin has a dark image. Both have left a powerful legacy on modern day Benin, and any journey here will be led by them, as travellers slip into a country still guided – or haunted – by voodoo spirits and fetishes, and the ghosts of departed slaves. But the darkness has turned surprisingly colourful. Voodoo, the state religion surrounded in myth and misunderstanding, is less about sticking pins in dolls, and more about embodying Gods and spirits, with fabulous costumes, seductive drumming and energetic dance. It’s about sacred python temples, and enchanted forests sheltering vanished kings.
SOME BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A THIN VEIL SEPARATING HUMANS AND SPIRITS. IF THERE IS, IT’S SURELY AT ITS MOST TRANSLUCENT IN BENIN, WHERE FETISHES AND FESTIVALS ALLOW THESE TWO WORLDS TO GLIMPSE EACH OTHER MOMENTARILY
Along the Slave Coast, the Door of No Return marks the tragic embarkation point for Africans shipped to the Americas. Across Benin, culture and architecture has been influenced by this darkest of pasts: incredible clay fortresses, a town marooned in the middle of a lake, faded Afro-Brazilian buildings constructed by freed slaves returning to their homeland. And who wouldn’t want to return? It’s old-fashioned magical here… Lift the veil on this spiritual nation with our Benin travel guide.