Ouidah is a little (by African standards) town located on the coast between Cotonou and Lome. A lot of Beninese seem to trace their roots to Ouidah as it has existed for centuries. It is also regarded as the birthplace of Voodooism. The religious and secular history of Africa is interesting and a subject I would like to take time to study a little more. Things are not always peaceful even today, but compared to the past much progress has been made. Beginning in about the 1400′s the slave trade began to be established. That is a painful part of human history but especially in the history of West Africa since this is where many of the slaves came from. It was not a happy time to be a citizen of Africa. Citizen is probably not a proper word since a person in Africa had no rights other than what was bestowed by the King or Ruler who had all power even over life and death. In Ouidah, there were 5 slave castles established, built by the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish and one other I have forgotten. Most of the slaves were sent to Brazil or to Europe. Later America got into the act but that was almost a footnote in the history of slavery. Slaves did not live in the castles. That was reserved for the buyers and sellers and officials. The slaves were kept in a compound out in the open weather much like animals. There were guard towers on each corner of the fortress and a mote surrounding the castle filled with alligators to discourage escapes.
Voodooism, if I understand correctly, originally began as a native religion in Benin around Ouida about 6000 years ago. The slaves (and others) would go to mass in the morning and then practice voodoo in the afternoon. Voodooism in American is associated with pins stuck in dolls and other such things. It does seem to be somewhat secretive and the people here in general strongly believe in curses and such things.
Animal sacrifices are also practiced and once in a while you see part of sacrificed chicken hanging by a voodoo flag. The basic religion, however, seems to be worship of a number of gods such as earth, sky, sea, etc. The Python snake also seems to hold a sacred place and thus, in Ouidah there is a Python Temple, which is more of a tourist trap than anything else in my opinion, but seems to be an important part of every visit to Ouidah.
The elders had a beach activity planned for Monday so Elder Black, Marlene and the boys had a fun day at the beach on the other side of Akpakpa. A member’s father owns a little resort by the beach and is located in a very pristine setting. The elders enjoying going out there on occasion just for a change of pace. The sandy ground drops off abruptly to the sandy beach and the ocean with the waves crashing in.
It is a beautiful spot and a fun place to play. It did not take the elders or Aaron and Jared long to come up with the idea of jumping off the sandy cliff into the sand below. Cyprien, the member, fixed a delicious meal of couscous and fish.
After some souvenir shopping on Tuesday and a nice home evening with Shella and her girls on Monday evening, we headed back to Lome on Wednesday with Marlene and the boys making a stop in Ouidah to visit the slave castle and the python temple. We also visited the beach and ate a nice picnic lunch while watching the waves crash in. The pictures can tell most of the rest of the story. On Thursday morning after final packing, we took them to the border to return to Accra. Again, the suitcases were transported by friendly natives for a fee across the border. That in itself is quite amazing to see. As soon as we stopped the vehicle, we were immediately surrounded by ladies offering to carry the suitcases across the border. A considerable argument began in the native Heve language, I suppose about who got to carry what, but that is where President Blaise comes in. We just let him handle all of that and soon it was sorted out. The suitcases were the maximum weight allowable on Delta – 50 lbs each – and there were 6 of them.
Some of those ladies are not all that big and I wondered if they would be equal to the task of carrying one of those big suitcases. Much to our surprise, as soon as the argument was settled, each selected transporter put TWO on their head and headed for the border. Getting them on their head is a bit of a problem and requires help but as soon as they are on the head – no problem.
Marlene and boys have reported a smooth trip back to Accra and on to Salt Lake City. She got to go to the temple on Thursday night while the boys were a little bored but easily got a taxi to the airport on Friday. The plane was late leaving so they missed their connection in New York but it worked out well. The airline put them up in a nice hotel. On Saturday they took a tour of the city and then Delta flew the on to SLC in first class – not a bad way to be delayed. We were thrilled to be able to share with some of the family, the sights and sounds of our mission. We had a great time, saw a lot of Togo and Benin we probably would not have otherwise got to see, and took probably a thousand pictures or more. It was a time we will always remember. Thanks Marlene, Aaron and Jared for coming.
On Friday night we attended a funeral wake. We talked about President Dieudonne from Togo near the start of our mission. The first time we got to go to the temple in Accra last June (2008), he and his wife went with us. He lived in England for some time and joined the church there before it ever existed in Togo. When he returned to Togo he was instrumental in getting the church established in Togo and eventually into Benin. He was branch president for a period of time and now serves as a counselor to President Ayekoue in the mission. He and his wife Philomen have been over to Benin several times on church business and stayed with us so we have become quite good friends. His father never joined although he had great respect for the church. His father has been ill for some time and passed away a few weeks ago. Here in Africa, the funeral celebration takes place a few weeks, sometimes even months after death. The wake or “Veille” as it is called in French, is really a celebration complete with an MC, a brass band, dancing and entertainment although it did have its serious moments. All the members who were there sat in one place and sang three hymns throughout the course of the evening. The whole event is held in the street in front of the deceased’s home. A very large tent is set up complete with rows of chairs. Few were there when it started but probably 4 -5 hundred were in attendance by the time it ended.
Saturday we went to a part of the funeral mass then went in the procession with two of the Togo branch presidents to Togoville where the burial took place. Togoville is a small village by the Benin border. It took almost two hours to drive there, much of it over dirt roads. You have to remember that graders are scarce or non-existent here so the roads are not well maintained. After a tour of the ancestral home the party made its way to the cemetery again escorted by the brass band where the burial was LDS style and the grave dedicated. It was a long way to go but we wanted to give Frere Dieudonne all the support we could in the loss of his Father.
Sunday was a day of trying to finish up audits of all the branches and some much needed rest for Soeur Black and me.