The Voodoo Festival at the slave gate to the “Door of No Return” in Ouidah, Benin

Ouidah, Benin, is the spiritual capital of the Vodoun, or voodoo religion, and hosts its annual international voodoo festival at the gates of the Route des Esclaves, under and through the memorial arch of the “Door of No Return,” by which enslaved Africans were taken from the slave port of Ouidah to the Americas.

Voodoo is a religion. Practitioners or followers of the various gods conduct ceremonies that involve drumming, dancing, singing and yes, a sacrifice of an animal as an offering to the gods. It is an explosive day of people, in their finest wears decked in spectacular African attire, celebrating and parading throughout Ouidah.

The main performance area of the festival had its ceremony at the “Door of No Return” monument along with political speeches by candidates running for office but it was the smaller gatherings, in Ouidah neighborhoods that our guide, Amedee with TransAfrica, whisked us off to that yielded the most intimate settings for getting up close and personal.

Voodoo has been demonized in the Western world but it was and still is practiced in West Africa. Although Africans captured and sold into slavery were required to abandon their religion and cultural traditions, those cultures and traditions survived in places like Haiti, Brazil and Cuba alongside of the slave master’s religion of Catholicism.

Here’s the Voodoo Festival and the memorial arch the Door of No Return to the enslaved Africans in Ouidah, Benin.

Me in Ouidah, Benin, by the “Route des Esclaves” by which slaves were taken to the beach to be put on cargo ships to the Americas. The arch, the “Door of No Return” is a memorial of concrete and bronze to the enslaved Africans. But today, thousands of people in attendance were in Ouidah, the spiritual capital of the religion of Voodoo. for it’s annual Voodoo Festival. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The sign at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on the beach front grounds by the “Door of No Return.” (Jan. 10, 2019)
The masses of people entering the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, with the slave arch memorial in the background, “Door of No Return.” (Jan. 10, 2019)
The men and women decked in their very best African attire at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The men and women decked in their very best African attire at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Balancing souvenirs for sale at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
People outside of the Voodoo Festival main performance area in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
People outside of the Voodoo Festival main performance area in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo practitioners, priests and priestesses singing and dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, waiting for the Voodoo High Priest to make his entrance and begin the processional. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo practitioners, priests and priestesses singing and dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, waiting for the Voodoo High Priest to make his entrance and begin the processional. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Beautifully dressed Africans at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo priests at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The processional for the Voodoo High Priest beginning at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Voodoo High Priest being carried inside a canopy to begin the processional at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Voodoo High Priest being carried inside a canopy to begin the processional at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo practitioners, priests and priestesses following the processional of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo practitioners, priests and priestesses following the processional of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A look at the elaborate dress from behind at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, Benin. Pythons are revered in Benin because they ate the insects that would destroy the villagers crops and scared away enemies during a war. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Art work on the outside of the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Yes, that’s me with a very live python around me and the dear man standing next to me is a Python worshipper at the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, Benin, who assured me that this python would not hurt me and he was so right. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Checking out the African men dressed in their colorful attire at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
More of the beautifully dressed African at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Catching a glimpse of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Catching a glimpse of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A lamb is being sacrificed, with the Voodoo High Priest’s blessing, as part of a ceremony to the gods at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The blood of the scarified lamb is poured over the alter in front of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A man kneeling in front of the Voodoo High Priest asking for a blessing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A group of men drumming and singing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Women dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Young women dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Young women dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin with the Zangbeto (the haystack), the night watchmen who were once in charge of keeping a village or community safe. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Young women dancing at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
Voodoo Priestesses at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A close-up of the Voodoo High Priest at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception in Ouidah, Benin, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under the Archdiocese of Cotonou. The basilica was dedicated on November 9, 1989. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A carved tree in Ouidah, Benin, depicting the time of slavery. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A carved tree in Ouidah, Benin, depicting the time of slavery. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A carved tree in Ouidah, Benin, depicting the time of slavery. (Jan. 10, 2019)
A carved tree in Ouidah, Benin, depicting the time of slavery. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Historical Museum of Ouidah began its earliest days as a small fortress built by the Portuguese in Ouidah on the coast of the Kingdom of Dahomey, present-day Benin, after which it grew around the slave trade. Enslaved Africans would be transported down the slave route to the beach at “Door of No Return,” to be put on cargo ships for sail to the Americas. The Portuguese, English, Dutch and French all constructed forts in the city to protect their interests in slaving. The Portuguese had reached the town which they called Ajudá in 1580 and the Portuguese Fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá, now housing the museum, dates from 1721 and remained with Portugal until July 31, 1961. The Kingdom spanned 300 years from around 1600 until 1904 as a major power on the Atlantic coast of modern-day Benin until French conquest. Dahomey became a major center in the Atlantic Slave Trade until 1852 when the British imposed a naval blockade to stop the trade. After the fort became property of Dahomey in 1961, the Dahomean government began restoration, and in 1967 the fort became the Ouidah Museum of History. On Nov. 30, 1975, Dahomey was renamed to the Republic of Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Historical Museum of Ouidah in Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Historical Museum of Ouidah in Benin. (July 10, 2019)
The Historical Museum of Ouidah in Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Historical Museum of Ouidah in Benin. (Jan. 10, 2019)
The Auction Square, Chacha square in Ouidah, Benin, next to the Historical Museum, was the first step of the slave road. It was under this tree and in this place that the public slave auctions were held. Once purchased, slaves were branded with the slave master’s markings. (Jan. 11, 2019)
This statue at the Auction Square under the tree in Ouidah, Benin, where the slave auctions were held also marks the beginning of the slave route. This and other statues can be seen along the slave route to the beach and the memorial arch of the “Door to No Return.” (Jan. 11, 2018)
This statue at the Auction Square under the tree in Ouidah, Benin, where the slave auctions were held also marks the beginning of the slave route. This and other statues can be seen along the slave route to the beach and the memorial arch of the “Door to No Return.”  (Jan. 11, 2018)
The slave route in Ouidah, Benin, from the Auction Square to the beach and the “Door of No Return.” (Jan. 11, 2019)
Amadee, our TransAfrica guide, explaining the monument in honor of the Tree of Forgetfulness along the Ouidah, Benin, slave route where millions of Africans, wrenched from their homeland, were forced to circle seven times to symbolically erase their collective memory of their origins and cultural identity to become beings without any will to reach or rebel before being shipped to the Americas. (Jan. 11, 2019)
A close-up of the monument to the “Tree of Forgetfullness,” along the slave route in Ouidah, Benin. This is Mother Africa, holding her children while calling her African children from the around the world, to come back home. (Jan. 11, 2019)
The Route des Esclaves, by which slaves were taken to the beach for trade, has numerous statues and monuments, including this memorial arch, “Door of No Return” in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 11, 2019)
A close-up of the carvings of the chained slaves headed to the beach to board ships to the America’s through the symbolic and memorial arch “Door of No Return,” in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 11, 2019)
And, on the other side of the “Door to No Return” in Ouidah, Benin, are the backs of the chained slaves heading to the beach to be shipped to the Americas and never to see him again. (Jan. 11, 2019)
This carved column towards the beach side of the “Door of No Return,” in Ouidah, Benin, are here to welcome back the souls of the dead slaves. (Jan. 11, 2019
This carved column towards the beach side of the “Door of No Return,” in Ouidah, Benin, are here to welcome back the souls of the dead slaves. (Jan. 10, 2019
A close-up of the chained men and women at the memorial arch of the “Door to No Return” in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 11, 2019)
The Great Memorial Jubilee of 2000 is “A Tribute to the First Messengers of Good News to Dahomey,” at the beach of Ouidah, Benin. In the year 2000 the Catholic church commissioned the construction of a memorial for their Jubilee Year to commemorate the arrival of the first Catholic missionaries in Dahomey, the old kingdom covering the present-day Benin which lasted from about 1600 until 1894. The monument’s colour is identical to the one of the “Door of No Return” also along the beach and just a few hundred feet away. (Jan. 9, 2019)
The view along the Ouidah, Benin, beach to and from our hotel also on the beach, the Hotel Casa del Papa. (Jan. 10, 2019)
My room along the beach of the Hotel Casa del Papa in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 9, 2019)
The beach side view from my room along the beach of the Hotel Casa del Papa in Ouidah, Benin. (Jan. 9, 2019)
The view to the the huge outdoor dining area of Hotel Casa del Papa in Ouidah, Benin, where we stayed while attending the Voodoo Festival. (Jan. 9, 2019)