Togo - Benin: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

 
     
     
 

Dispatch 7 - Dassa-Zoumé

 
 

Natitingou-DASSA (300km by bus).  A pleasant ride with a mixture of forest and grasslands.
Points of interest: Djougou, sacred burial sites

 
 

 

 
 

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, hills around town Dassa-Zouma, Benin, hills around townCulturally, Dassa is said to be comprised of 42 hills, which is an auspicious number. The town winds around the lower slopes of many of the hills.

Culturally it is the furthest north clan (Royal Authority of Dassa-Zoumé) connected to Dahomey, but there are separate origin stories; in Dassa the origin story starts in Yorubaland (present day Nigeria) and in Abomey the origin story starts Tado (in present day Togo). The local Idaca language is in the Yoruboid-Edekiri group.  The Yoruboid-Edekeri languages of Ife, Kombole and Mokole are spoken in Togo.  But the language of Dahomey was Fon-Gbe, of the Gbe cluster, which is very different from Yoruboid languages.

On the other hand there are some close correspondence in the Tado and Yoruba pantheons:

  • The creator / supreme deity; Mawu (in the Fon-Gbe language) or Olodumare (in Yoruba)
  • The god of the earth and smallpox; Sakpata or Cankpana
  • The god of thunder; Xevioso or Shango
  • The god of war, iron and fire; Gu or Ogun

The King of Dassa-Zoumé still rule in some civil law case and has other limited powers.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, walking among houses Dassa-Zouma, Benin, town as veiw from surrounding hill.Most tourist to Dassa visit a grotto along the highway where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared.  We never got there but we spent several hours in the afternoon learning about traditional practices in Dassa.  This involve a much less convenient hike to the top of a hill.  The trek also offered more panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, entranceDassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,After we left the residential area on the lower slopes we started to encountered shrines and ceremonial sites before we even reached the top of the ridge and hill.  This were spiritual transition space prior to reaching the more sacred space further ahead.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, buildingsAt the top of the ridge are a number of building -- ceremonial houses for the ancestors -- which make up the family shrine.

Incidentally, or coincidentally, the image of  the Virgin Mary was seen lower down on this same hill.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,One of ceremonies performed in this area are the funerals for important members of the family.  We were talked through the entire Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,process, including the initial sacrifice of an animal; the wake; the cleaning of the body; the mourning; etc. All over the area the were a variety of ceremonial and ritual items and spaces set up for ceremonial purposes.  It was beautiful, fascinating and sometimes ghoulish.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, Almost lost in the vegetation is a collection of royal symbols.

 

 

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, cookwareOverlooking the valley, on a promontory there is and area used to prepare the ceremonial banquet food.  At the edge of the granite cliff we stood on a large rock covered with dozens of deep, man-made grooves carved from generations of families grinding their food (such as peppers, etc.) with stones.  The wouldn't have been up on the hill even weekly to prepare for a ceremony, so with infrequent use each furrow must have taken dozens of years to create.  Collectively, the grooves must represented centuries of occupation of the hill.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site,

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, family ancestor ceremonial site, fish rock Perhaps the most curious object on the hill is the naturally created "fish rock."  Appropriately it overlooks the cooking area.

 

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, CathedralDespite the dominance of a strong traditional community and belief system, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in La Grotte Marial Notre Dame d'Arigbo (Our Lady of Peace) (in 1954 or before).  (For additional perspective see Mary Throughout the World.)

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, CathedralThe grotto is at the base of a hill on the outskirts of Dassa near a spring, which in the past used to inspire terror because the sodden ground used to swallow up the unfortunate. The hill above was and still is Dassa-Zouma, Benin, Cathedralused for traditional rituals. Since the vision a basilica, containing several shrines, has been built around the grotto. There is a major pilgrimage to the shine every August.  Pope John-Paul came to Benin in 1982 and 1993, but it is not clear from his online travel documents whether he visited Dassa.

Addendum:

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, modern sculpture exhibit

During a visit to Dassa there was a modern sculpture exhibit, both multi-media pieces and icons carved in granite bolders.

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, modern sculpture exhibit

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, modern sculpture exhibit

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, traditional image carved in granite

Dassa-Zouma, Benin, traditional image carved in granite

 

 Next dispatch.

 
 

 
     

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