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

 
     
     
 

Dispatch 10 - Ouidah

 
 

Lokossa-OUIDAH (75km, 47mi)  We descend to the coastal plain and end at a former slaving town.
Points of interest: Lake Aheme, museum and various oddities.

 
     
  near Lokossa, Benin, statue of drummers The route out of Lokossa is fairly flat and largely more of the same -- a nice bicycle ride through green woodlands and farmlands.  The landscape continued to be lush with the occasional village set back in the trees.  A morning fog kept it cool but also didn't foster a lot of easy photo opportunities.  One subject that did catch my eye was a sculpture, but the lighting was difficult.

Bopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, boatsBopa, Benin, Lake Aheme The obvious route to Oudiah is to take the highway to Como and turn left onto an even busier highway.  Looking for something different we abandoned the highway and headed for the lakeside village of Bopa on the northwest side of Lake Aheme.  The map didn't have a lot of detail for this area but suggested that there might be some kind of track that paralleled the highway down the west side of the lake. 

Bopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, boat loaded with passengers and bicyclesBopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, boat with passengersIn Bopa we discovered that  negotiating for a boat across the lake would not be too arduous and the maps suggested there would be some kind of road out from the east side of the lake. So we abandoned theBopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, fisherman and boat asphalt highway for the "Lake Aheme Marine Highway". Don't be deceived, there is nothing rushed about the marine highway.  No motor boats were seen or heard. In fact, the lake must be very shallow and the poling that propels the boat is anything but hasty. It took about an hour to cross the lake -- a distance of two to three kilometers.

Bopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, fishermen and boatsBopa, Benin, Lake Aheme, fishermen and boatsEven so there was a curious amount of boat congestion on the lake. It turns out that this was cooperative fishing enterprise with casting nets.  The fishermen would form an open circle and then all cast their nets into the center at the same time.

Lake Aheme, Benin, altars of Voodoo culture/religionAs we had hoped, there were roads on the east side of the lake, but the roads had no directional signs.  As might be expected from an area with very few traffic generators, there was also almost no traffic.  Lake Aheme, Benin, altars of Voodoo culture/religionThe real interesting aspect of this new area was the marks of Voodoo culture / religion.  (This is not the voodoo of television cartoons, but it is the origins of the many of the African elements of religions in Brazil, Haiti and Cuba.)  The coastal area of Benin and Togo is considered the home and heart of the Voodoo culture.  The roadside evidence Lake Aheme, Benin, sign for traditional healer of Voodoo culture/religioncame in the form of household shrines and altars.  While they generally take the same form there seems to be no effort to make them identical so they are very individualistic and interesting.  Another indicia of a change of culture was the prevalence of roadside signs advertising the location and services of traditional healers.

Lake Aheme, Benin, Japan-Benin cooperation school With the long-established life practices there is also validation of how dynamic Benin is:  Along the road there were multiple modern development projects such as schools (the school shown here is a Japan-Benin cooperative project), clinics, improved water supplies, some rural electrification and occasional signs of the infancy of agro-industry.

Eventually our bucolic route arrived at the highway, we crossed it and found that we had arrived in the center of Ouidah without having used the asphalt highway for the last half the day.

Ouidah, Benin,Mostly Ouidah is a low-rise town with an admirable amount of tree cover.  From the vantage point of the hotel roof one can see that most of the roofs are metal or tiles, though some of the metal roofs are heavily rusted.  Predominantly the buildings in the city center are constructed with cement blocks that are study and have a long lifespan. The preferential colors for buildings are pink, mustard yellow and white -- merging into a single color from the reddish tinge from a coating of dust.

Ouidah, Benin, Ouidah, Benin, Ouidah, Benin,

Ouidah, Benin, story of life carvingOuidah, Benin, story of life monumentIn the center of Ouidah are the remains of what must have been a grand old cottonwood tree. The old tree trunk has been given an extended life as a elaborately carved record of the history that past by it. The relief reflects slavery, war, colonialism, royalty, religion and culture.

 

Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statueOuidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statueOuidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statueOuidah most rapid development came from slaving enterprises in the 18th century. This is now memorialized with the "Route of the Slaves" and a monument to those affected.  The Route of the Slaves, which runs for a several kilometers between the town and the coast, is lined by sculpture that reflect history, culture and proverbs. On the right above are a chameleon and a female warrior.

Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue  Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue

Aidohwedo is the rainbow god and also the god of continuity and wealth.

Ouidah, Benin, Route of the SlavesOuidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No ReturnPast the coastal estuary and lagoon, where the Route of the Slaves reaches the ocean the is an impressive memorial to the victims of the Atlantic slave trade. This would have been the door of no return, where captives would have been loaded on to ships for the middle passage to the Americas.

 Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return

Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return Ouidah, Benin, Route of the Slaves, monument / statue Door of No Return 

Ouidah, Benin, monument to the millennium and Christianity.Near by is a monument to the millennium and Christianity.

Ouidah, Benin, museumDiagram of slave shipBack in town, the Portuguese fort, Fortaleza Sao Joao Batista, built in 1721 to facilitate the slave trade, has been restored to serve as a museum. Most of the exhibits are reproductions of materials on slavery.  Photography of the interior is now prohibited, but here is a photograph of the front gate and exhibit material from a different source.

The central market is shaded by the canopies of large trees.  In the middle of the day it offered some relief to the heat and humidity of the  unprotected streets.

Ouidah, Benin, market Ouidah, Benin, market Ouidah, Benin, market

Ouidah, Benin, men playing seed game. Perhaps it was the afternoon heat which prompted these gentlemen to take a break from whatever they were doing to compete at the seed game.  The game, with slight variations, is played across sub-Saharan Africa.  The main difference from place to place is the name. In the KoGbe speaking part of Benin the game is called ajato.  Some of the other names is West Africa are: wori (Malinke, Mali), gbo walo (Bassa, Liberia), ma kpo (Mano, Liberia), tay gbo knongi (Gbandi, Liberia), mana (Kpelle, Liberia), wrah (Kru, Liberia), wosley (Ivory Coast), owari (Twi, Ghana), aju (Ewe, Togo), ayo (Yoruba, Nigeria), bmang (Grassfields, Cameroon), and, mankala (Disney).

Ouidah, Benin, CathedralOuidah, Benin, CathedralThe Western religion vying with Voodoo for dominance in this section of Benin is Catholicism.  The large neo-gothic cathedral in the center of Ouidah is one of the tallest buildings in town.

Ouidah, Benin, dinner preparation To finish the day, we dined al fresco again. The cook offered an "a la pot" choice of rice, beans, fish and an assortment of sauces.
Ouidah, Benin, dinner preparation Ouidah, Benin, eating dinner

Sunset in Ouidah, BeninSunset in Ouidah.

Addendum:
 

 Next dispatch.

 
 

 
     

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