DESTINATION BENIN 2007
Benin is a small country in West Africa with a turbulent past. In the early colonial period, the region was called 'Slave Coast' and the legacy of this evil trade is still to be seen today in modern Benin's building and culture. From the 17th through to the 19th century the kings of Dahomey became fantastically wealthy by raiding their neighbours and selling the resulting captives, through intermediaries, to be shipped to the West Indies, Brazil or the United States. Ouidah, on the coast, became a major slave trading port, and the Luso-Brazillian influence in many of its oldest buildings can still be seen.
The Portuguese Fort at Ouidah is the setting for the late Bruce Chatwin's semi-factual novella The Viceroy of Ouidah, telling the story of the Brazillian slaver Francisco da Souza - a book that bears comparison with Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Nineteenth century attempts by the Royal Navy to put an end to the slave trade are recounted by some of those who were there in King Guezo of Dahomey 1850-52 in The Stationery Office Uncovered Editions series. Ouidah is also the burthplace of the Voodoo religion, which was exported with the slaves to the Americas.
SNC Africa organized a unique field trip to Benin for journalists, businessmen and opinion formers, as part of the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade.
Originally built as a church for returned slaves from Brazil, the mosque at Porto Novo aptly demonstrates the variety of cultures that have come together to create the modern Benin.
Fishing on Lake Aherne.
Benin is the home of the voodoo religion, and is particularly strong in the town of Ouidah, where this voodoo priest lives.
The Portuguese Fort at Ouidah remained in sovereign Portuguese hands until after Dahomey became independent in 1961, being for many years the smallest international territory in the world.
Voodoo practitioners in action, Ouidah.
The Gate of No Return on the Ouidah shoreline symbolizes the place from which the slaves were carried out to the waiting ships.
An audience with HM King Gbehanzin II of Abomey. Although holding no formal power, the kings of Benin are recognized under the constitution and receive state funding under a civil list.
HM King Gbehanzin II of Abomey.
Egungun are spirits of the dead who return to occupy the bodies of an elite corps of Yoroba-speaking priests. This pair are in Bohicon, near Abomey.
An Egungun offers advice to a petitioner.
In the north, the Tata Somba group of peoples adopted a different solution to the problem of resisting slavers. Each Tata Somba settlement is a miniature, self-contained fortress, with a defensible upper level. Each settlement is out of musket range of its neighbour, making capturing each fort a separate, and costly, business.
Household goods on the upper level of a Tata Somba fort
Pots 'n' pans...
Traditional flags of the kings of Dahomey.
Newly enthroned, the leader of the Voodoo religion emerges from the Voodoo temple, Ouidah.
Processing down the Route of Slaves to the Gate of No Return.