January 10 is a national holiday to celebrate traditional religions of Benin – namely, Vodun. I joined two of my close-mates and a HCN (“Host Country National”) for the festivities at a nearby mayor’s office. The HCN is affectionately known by several volunteers in my region as “The Voodoo Man.” Voodoo Man is one of those awesome HCNs who made friends with a PCV once and now says “hey, you’re a foreigner, and there’s some cool stuff in this country – let me share it with you, for nothing in return but your company!” I love it when I meet people like this, and I have had some of my best culture-sharing adventures here with them. Voodoo Man is a priest and authority figure of a regional vodun cult. He often invites PCVs to witness ceremonies, and many volunteers have gone to him to receive scarification – a common body modification practice in Benin, like tattooing, that denotes your heritage and has spiritual (or souvenir-ical) significance.
When I arrived, I found my party with 3rd row seats on stage! From there, we sat among the Voodoo Man’s colleagues and important kings from the region, and we got to witness all sorts of costumes, dancing, and music!
Like most clothing in Benin, the costumes of these voodoo spirits and traditional medicine man were incredibly colorful and elaborate!
These haystack looking things are called “Zangbetos.” They are spirits, and their apprentices will dismantle them to prove there is nobody underneath, just a talisman or animal of some sort.
When someone performs for you, dancing or drumming, it’s custom to place money on their forehead. These guys made bank today.