Benin - Learning the basics of Voodoo

Most popular beach in Benin

Right next to Nigeria there is Benin. Not far from the border is the city Cotonou and in comparison to Nigeria, there is peace and tranquility. Maybe this had something to do with Voodoo?


From a one-minute documentary I knew that this form of sorcery was crafted in Benin, but most of it I solely knew from horror movies when the mean person pulls out an ugly doll to stick needles in its shoulder to control an enemy.

I haven't spent a long time in Benin, but even a few days were enough to see the major attractions in Cotonou. And speaking to a few locals were very enlightening to learn what voodoo was about. I was wondering to hear from locals:


What is Voodoo in a "Voodoo for Dummies" context?

For sure was, that the needle sticking and remote controlling people like I knew from the movies, was a hoax created by Hollywood. They don't do it like that in reality, but they do have some practice where they cut people with needles under the arms as some form of baptism to prepare them as new voodoo priests.

1. So, voodoo is a religion like every other religion as well with its own specific rituals.

2. They don't sacrifice animals for bad intentions. Sacrificed animals though were used in rituals sometimes (sometimes!) and when that is the occurrence, it's mostly a very important gathering of family and to eat the dead animal afterward, like at Christmas or Easter.

3. It's not sorcery like I thought it is. Some larger percentage of the people in Cotonou are voodoo members and they practice it, it's a normal religion.

4. Voodoo people are friendly people, even though many of them are very poor. But they can speak to foreigners and are not afraid of white people (I thought they see white people as evil or something).

5. They do not use modern medicine and don't use the vaccine, instead, they use dead animals as ingredients for medicine or in a soup to have better luck in life.

6. Which part of an animal they have to use is told them by the voodoo priest. For example, the voodoo priest tells the customer to buy a gorilla hand on the market to protect the house and home.

7. Voodoo practitioners have a specific pattern of clearly visible scars on their cheeks. The voodoo masters even have scars under their arms.


Testing the knowledge: Voodoo field practice

These were the basics I learned in a crash course from the personnel in a restaurant and with that knowledge and while walking through Cotonou, I tried to figure out and find the voodoo people in the masses on the streets, by observing the people's behavior or scars they have on their cheeks. This was interesting.


Map of Cotonou:
Map for Tourists and Travel with things to see in Cotonou




Day 1 - From Lagos to Benin

I left Lagos this morning with the pleasant ABC bus (incl. toilet) which was only 13'000 CFA. The descent was promising, but it was steep downhill with every kilometer. The roads in Nigeria are catastrophic, even the busiest and biggest long-distance roads have potholes without end.

The fun finally stopped at the border to Benin. Without a warning Nigeria has closed the border, apparently because of some dispute about imported rice from Benin to Nigeria and that Nigeria wants to state an example on Benin.

After a few hours of waiting in front of the closed border between Nigeria and Benin without knowing when or if it will open again, the bus was able to continue. Even if the waiting time and delay carried over into the hours, it could have turned out much worse. Or there could have been dozens of other reasons why my arrival in Cotonou was delayed.

The immigration authorities were quite relaxed, the entry with the new E-Visa worked very well. The journey from the Nigeria/Benin border to Cotonou took only about an hour.

I was unloaded at the ABC bus station a little west of Cotonou. The bus then drove on to Togo.

Benin telecom
Not dirty compared to NigeriaSmall buildings and no hightowers in CotonouBenin has lots of waterThe pyjamas are everywhere in BeninOld slavery has gone and technology has comeCan be see daily on the streets.



The calm neighborhood Ayelawadje is good and cheap to stay

I missed being in the best part of Cotonou, which is right next to the airport. My apartment was at the other end of Cotonou, which was a quiet area but not the most central to explore Cotonou. But Cotonou is not very big and quite manageable in terms of things to admire.

Many power outages in Benin
All religions in Benin, including VoodooPeople preparing a voodoo cerenomieBenin people like to walk around in pyjamas




Day 2 - Sightseeing in Cotonou

Benin is a former French colony and, like other French colonies, Benin has inherited a legacy in the form of croissants. In each street, there are one or more bakeries selling fresh croissants in all shapes and sizes.

From Ayelawdje I drove to the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo to ask if it is possible to get a visa for DRC. The embassy was famous and notorious for issuing a tourist visa without an invitation letter for the DRC. Unfortunately, they stopped issuing visas in April 2019 and no more visas will be issued. However, the embassy was right next to the airport and from there I started my sightseeing tour.


See the only important statue in Benin, the "Place des Martyrs"

I came from the embassy near the airport and from there it was just around the corner. There are not many monuments or statues in Benin at all, so seeing this one didn't hurt. It was sponsored as a gift by North Korea, which is something not many countries can say, to have a present from North Korea.

Its sponsored by North Korea
Me in front of the Cotonou monumentGood friends are Benin and North KoreaBut its more quiet than Nigeria



Next to the monument the "Cotonou Art Gallery"

When leaving the martyr monument it was impossible to miss the small art gallery. And it was worth having a look at art in Africa is different. Some animals, such as crocodiles and leopard, were often visible in the art of Benin. 

They are for the purpose of demonstrating the power of Benin. 

Many graffity all over the streets in Cotonou
Artists in Cotonou painting on the streetsBenin people use spririt animals as inspiratiosPeople are painted in black in Benin



Passing by the "Presidency of the Republic of Benin"

I was on the way to the beach when this huge building appeared on the right side of the street. Guards don't like people showing up out of nothing and make detailed pictures from the area or the building. This was the only time I got yelled at during my stay in Benin, but the photo was already taken when I was sitting on the back of the moto-taxi.

The home of the president of Benin
Not many dirt when comparing to other countriesIts becoming a modern city. Modenr BeninIce cream in Benin is not good for western people




Have a glimpse of a nice African coast at "Obama Beach"

The beach was "under construction" when I visited. The entertainment area at the Obama Beach consists of a restaurant and a leisure park. But the beach itself wasn't very spectacular, although unexpected, very clean all over.

I wasn't sure if the people were kidding me, those whom I asked why the beach was called Obama Beach, but I will believe them for now.

President Obama was going to school in Cotonou and he visits every few years here at the beach!

Benin beach is under construction
Festival in Benin at the beach in 2020 ?Me at the Obama beach in CotonouBenin is doing a good job on cleaning up the climate waste



Looks like candy at the "Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Miséricorde"

The Cotonou Cathedral. With this red and white stripes, this building remembered me to the red and white Christmas candy. Beside the cathedral was a small market that sells cashew nuts in plastic bottles.

Its painted in candy white red coat
Africa Churches are unique. Like this on in CotonouPrayers were spoken in this areaMarket just ouside the church sells Cashew



Getting claustrophobic at the voodoo market "Dantokpa Market"

In the core its a normal African market with all possible goods and groceries from locals for locals. The market itself is heavily busy, dirty and humid. And it smells bad and it's loud.

The biggest market in Benin
Market was too stressful and extremely loudCommercial turnover of many billion CFA Francs per dayAlong the river in Benin to CotonouGreta Thunberg never has been to Africa



The voodoo "fetish market"

I wasn't in the mood to spend much time here but I was wondering about the voodoo fetish market here, which is a small market on its own within Dantokpa.

This voodoo market is free to enter as and was not made for tourists as for example the one in Lomé.

It was a very disturbing atmosphere and its disgusting to see the dead body parts of so many African animals piled up for sale. There is basically every exotic animal on stock, like hyenas or gorilla heads and hands. The smell was already bad before entering this specific area of Dantokpa, but here, if you wonder if this area smells even worse, then the answer is YES.

But the locals here use this for their religion, for voodoo.

Voodoo priests tell the practitioners to buy a specific body part of a specific animal to cure some specific problem or pain.

The practitioner needs then to do a voodoo ritual at home, which requires to cook soup with the purchase or take a bath with the limb.

Not meant for tourists. This is the real voodoo market.
Aggressions arise, when the tourist thinks he can simply photograph the cadavers and fetishesVoodoo uses all kind of animals to perform ritualsCotonou has a real fetish market for voodoo priests



Watch the busiest street in Benin "Boulevard Saint Michel"

This was the busiest street in Benin and leads pas the Dantokpa Market over the river. Standing on the crossover and watching the traffic was impressive. There are thousands of motorbikes per hour and create pollution of which Greta Thunberg will have her toenails cringed when knowing about it.

Busies road in Benin
High pollution in westafricaThe traffic in Cotonou is intenseIn Benin its easy to catch a mototaxi



Escape the heavy rain at "Foundation Zinsou"

In the afternoon it was raining bad and had to wait several hours to continue walking as the rain was so heavy, that even an umbrella wasn't enough.

The main streets were covered with water and the mud in the long sideroads of Cotonou were soaked. I heard about this art gallery "Zinsou" and gave it a try. I was not disappointed by going there and it was even free to visit.

Benin art for tourists like me and you
Chicken look different in Benin than in EuropeArtificial rooms and free from entrance feeThis is africa in the living room at the Foundation Zinsou



Walk the streets around the "Place de l'Etoile Rouge"

This was the best-known roundabout in the whole of Benin. From the ground, this pole doesn't look very impressive, but I saw images that were made from a plane, they look way better as there is a huge red star on the ground. Just bad that probably no one of the people around here has the chance to buy a ride in an aircraft to see that from above. It's good to see it for a few minutes while passing by, nothing more.

Place de l'Etoile Rouge is only good to see from high above in the air
Tourist attraction but not very impressiveThis huge mosque in Cotonou is the largest in whole BeninJust beside the foundation ZinsouAt one of the busiest streets is the Le Benin in CotonouThis train drives on the streets. High pollution guaranteed.People in Benin wearing pyjamas and cowboy hats on the street




Day 3 - Continue to Togo

Another very rainy day in Cotonou. When it rains in Africa it's heavy.


Today at noon I continued on the journey to Togo. The distance is very short if you look at other distances between capitals in Africa. Even if the departure was delayed again by hours, the trip with the ABC minibus was very pleasant.

Time to continue to another one of these African border crossings.

The bus station is not located where google maps is showing
Houses do not have numbers and its difficult to find places in CotonouCotonous roads are flooded with mudWestafrica has some countries with heavy rainfallThere is 100 liters of water in the streetsMany lebanese people have restaurants in BeninThis street is full of mudd, walking is not recommended.

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