Benin National Vodoun Day

Benin National Vodoun Day (Traditional Religions Day)

January 10
Vodoun is an ancient, African, pantheistic religion. When it was brought to the Americas by African slaves, it was blended with elements of Christianity into what is known as "voodoo." The present African country of Benin, situated on the former kingdom of Dahomey, is known as a center of Vodoun culture, and the city of Ouidah is the home of Vodoun's Supreme Chief, Daagbo Hounon.
Vodoun was scorned and suppressed by European colonists in Dahomey. It continued to be practiced, often in secret, even by those indigenous people who outwardly accepted conversion to Christianity. Benin gained independence in 1960, but Vodoun continued to be banned during the 18 years Mathieu Kerekou was at the head of the government. He found the Vodoun practices and rites unacceptable to the socialist philosophy of his regime.
Kerekou lost power in 1991, and Benin's new democratic government soon showed its respect for Vodoun, which is still practiced by an estimated 65% of the country's population. January 10 was proclaimed National Vodoun Day/Traditional Religions Day, and Vodoun and other traditional religions were given officially recognized status, along with Christianity and Islam. The government, in conjunction with UNESCO, sponsored an event called "Ouidah 92: The First International Festival of Vodoun Arts and Cultures." Works of art were commissioned to honor the ancient kingdom of Dahomey and other aspects of Benin's history and traditions. Because the port of Ouidah was a major point of departure for slave ships, many of the works concerned the slave trade. They are permanently installed throughout the city and are focal points for the celebration of National Vodoun Day/Traditional Religions Day in Ouidah.
The day is celebrated throughout Benin, but most elaborately in Ouidah. There are various processions, Vodoun rituals, dances, and even an international film festival held in conjunction with the holiday. The celebration's central activity, however, is the re-enactment of the journey from the slave auction block in the center of town to the ships in the harbor. Led by the Supreme Chief of Vodoun, followers travel the three-kilometer "Route of the Slaves," pausing to pray and make offerings to the gods and ancestors at the memorials that have been erected along the way. The final stop is a sculpture at the water's edge, called "Gate of No Return." After reaching the end of the route, participants can enjoy music, food vendors, and artists in town and on the beach. Many people of African descent from North and South America visit Benin to make this pilgrimage along the Route of the Slaves.
Embassy of Benin
2124 Kalorama Rd. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-232-6656; fax: 202-232-1196
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.