Our fantastic cultural odyssey to the most remote regions of Ghana, Togo and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds ruled by traditional chiefs and ancient spirits.
Along the coast, in the heart of voodoo original regions we encounter practitioners, watch trance-dancesand learn about the great influence voodoo spirits still have on people.
Heading inland from the forest to the savannah, we discover the Taneka tribe on a rocky mountain, then the Tamberma with their fairy-tale clay adobe castles and finally, we enter the Ashanti kingdom in Kumasi forests.We end our tour exploring the former Gold Coast, with the largest European castles in Africa; centuries remain of gold and slave trade. Indeed, the most complete and spectacular way to discover West Africa rich patrimony of Tribes, Kingdoms, festivals and ceremoniesFor travellers who want to get acquainted with this unique region … and love Africa!
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE TRIP
Yam Festival (Benin) Yam is one of main ingredients of the stable diet in West Africa. In August, the population of Central Regions of Benin gather together around notables and kings to celebrate a ritual of continuity: eating together the new tubers bring two meanings. One the one hand it means thanking the gods and the ancestors for the good harvest and on the other hand it means asking for this to continue for the coming years. The festival goes on with dancing masks and voodoo celebrations.
Lome, Gulf of Guinea -Togo
Arrival in Lome and transfer to the hotel.
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city which was a colony of the Germans, the British and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world bordering with another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the life style of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town: Lomé is indeed a cross point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in small size. We will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (=cloths) coming from Europe and sold all over West Africa; the colonial buildings of the administrative quarter where the reminiscent of colonial time is still very present. We will stop at the fetish market where an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions are to be found.
In a remote village we will join a Voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the adepts call in the voodoo spirits who then take possession of some of the dancers. They fall into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo divinities who can manifest. In this narrow village, surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will finally understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our voodoo shrines we become Gods!”
Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey Kingdom during the 18th century to become one of the main slave ports. Today Ouidah enjoys an Afro-Brazilian architecture with the python temple facing the Catholic Cathedral. The laid-back attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums – a timeless atmosphere well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. By foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a small but interesting museum on the history of Ouidah and the transatlantic slave trade. We end the visit following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of “no return” where slaves were shipped to the “new world”.
We cross Lake Nokwe with a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their wooden huts on teak stilts. Fishing is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. We drive to Abomey where we visit the Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. At the height of power the King has up to 4.000 wives living in the harem. Nowadays the royal palace is a museum, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage, it displays items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes and weapons.
We join a village to participate to Yam festival. From libations on new crops to festive lunch and final dances in the afternoon. Full insight into a village celebration.
Meeting with Celestial Church: interesting example religious syncretism mixing voodoo and Christianity. First stop will be at Dankoli Fetish, a unique shrine for ancient animistic cults still practiced. Thousands of short sticks are pushed in and all around the fetish as testimony of the countless prayers for a good harvest, a happy wedding, an easy delivery, success at school etc. In the afternoon we discover a few old Taneka villages located on a mountain with the same name. The villages are made up of round adobe huts covered with a conical roof protected on the top by a terra cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiated and by the fetish priests who only cover themselves with a goat skin and always carry a long pipe.
We enter the land of Somba & Tamberma who live in adobe fortified dwellings. The shape is like small medieval castles, they are one of the most beautiful examples of traditional African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier vanguard architect that describe it as «sculptural architecture». In fact, the houses are built by hand, layer of clay after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. With the permission granted to us by the elders we enter their homes to better understand their way of life. In the evening, we discover the fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the silhouette of the participants. They dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums eventually leaping into the glowing embers, picking up burning coals, passing them over their bodies and even putting them in their mouths and swallowing them. all this without hurting themselves or showing any sign of pain. It’s difficult to explain such a performance. Is it matter of courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.
We will head southwards, with a stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African small town built on hills where all the products coming from the nearby forests can be found. Through their skilled work on small weaving looms, the men of the region make the large brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”. From Atakpame we move to the tropical forest surrounding Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important cocoa and coffee trading market. Walk in the forest to discover the mysterious world of the tropical forest and so meet with the majesty profile of tropical trees and the sounds of tam. Under the guidance of a local entomologist, we will learn about butterflies and colourful insects.
Krobo tribe is known for its glass beads. Krobo people produce and wear glass beads for ceremonies and aesthetic purposes. We will visit an artisan community of beads producers and even experience the process of making our own bead. The craftsmen has been producing beads following the same long lasting traditional technique for centuries. They use scrap glass that is grounded into a fine powder. The glass powder is then meticulously made into patterns and placed into hand-made clay moulds covered in kaolin. The beads are cooked then decorated, washed and eventually strung.
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the old Ashanti Kingdom. Ashanti people were one of the most powerful Kingdoms in Africa until the end of the 19th century, when the British annexed Ashanti Country to their Gold Coast colony. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (=King) is the best evidence of their past splendour and strength. With nearly one million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling town with a unique central market, one of the largest in Africa. Every kind of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, Kente cloth) is found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable. The program includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre: a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts housed in a wonderful reproduction of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon we participate – if available – in a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. We say “funerals” but it means a “festive” celebration: thanks to this ceremony the deceased return as an ancestor and will protect his family. Relatives and friends gather, socialize and celebrate his/her memory. The chief arrives surrounded by his court under the shade of large umbrellas while drums give rhythm to the dancers whose intricate moves are highly symbolic in war and erotic meanings.
In the morning continuation of the tour of Kumasi, with the visit to the Royal Palace Museum hosting a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court. In the afternoon visit to some Ashanti villages with traditional clothing and carving.
Slaves’ trade castles
Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, erected by the Portuguese in the 15th century. At different times the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. The castle we visit today is the result of successive extension works and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old Dutch Cemetery in Elmina goes back to 1806. Outside the castle, there is a spectacular fishing village with lots of large colourful fishing boats – every day these wooden large pirogues conducted by skilled fishermen across strong ocean waves and currents, “fighting” to earn a living. In the old town we will see the Posuban, the shrines of the ancient “Asafo companies” – the warriors who used to put their offerings on the large colourful statues. The alleys in the old town have a very lively atmosphere, bringing us back to a time when Elmina was a busy colonial town.
Accra: African Metropolis
Accra, the capital of Ghana, has maintained its unique identity despite the fast-paced development currently underway in this intriguing African city. We explore the old quarter of James Town, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. Our tour ends with the visit to a workshop where they are specialized in building fantasy coffins. These special handcrafted coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, airplanes…. the only limit being imagination! Started in Africa, these flamboyant coffin designs are now collected worldwide and exposed in museums. In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out.