Enjoy a trip in two countries running alongside the Gulf of Guinea, both tiny and fascinating.
In Togo and Benin, you will experience tribal villages and ways of living embedded with powerfull cultural traditions.
This itinerary will take you from Lomé to the Atakora Mountains.
With the tropical forest in the background, you will discover
the Tamberma and Somba tribes, who live and build spectacular adobe castles. You will learn about their social structure by listening to how their houses are organized.
Meet with Tamberma people who live following strict cultural rules. The men’s life is punctuated by a long initiation rite which takes more the forty years.
From the Atakora back to the coast: the cradle of voodoo. A wild spread religion who will challenge your knowledge about it.
Come and meet with fetish priests, healers and oracles. Witness the state of deep trance adepts can reach when, during voodoo ceremonies, they “become gods”.
In Togo and Benin, you will become accustomed to the world of masks. You will experience their social impact and you will admire their artistic feature.
Lomé, Gulf of Guinea
Arrival in Lomé and transfer to the hotel.
Our journey at the heart of magic starts with a visit of Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, 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 (unfortunately the market has been partially destroyed by fire); the colonial buildings in the administrative quarter where the flavour of colonial time is still very present; and the fetish market where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions – it is here that all the adepts of the local animist religion come to buy the necessary items to practice their cults. The market masters will introduce us with some of their home-made “gris-gris” prepared to help us solve our daily life issues. In the evening, cooking class: feel free to take part in cooking your dinner in the kitchen of a professional chef. You will discover the property and the flavour of raw local products to fusion with other ingredients and cooking techniques coming from abroad. If you prefer have a rest in your room you can meet the group after the class and have dinner together.
Drive to Kpalimé, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important trade center. Visit of the arts center. In the afternoon, Walk in the forest to meet with the majesty of tropical trees, the cheerful greetings of its human inhabitants, the sounds of tam-tams, the filtered green emerald light. Under the guidance of a local entomologist, we will learn about endemic butterflies and insects and we will be initiated to the art of painting with natural colours.
We will head northwards and stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African town built on hills and where we can find all the products originating in the nearby forests. Dating back to the XIX century, it lies along the main railroad connecting Lomé to Blitta and was initially settled by the Ewe and Yoruba. It is at the centre of an important cotton-growing area and it is here that men of the region, through their skilled work on small weaving looms, make the brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”. We continue northwards, visiting some villages and possibly some markets on the way. These populations came originally from the north of the country and have maintained their traditions that keep them tied to the land of their ancestors. In the evening, fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the faces 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 … 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.
Further West we visit the region inhabited by the Bassar. They live in large clay houses with conical roofs and keep the secret of the very old process of iron production: a combination of geology and alchemy. For instance, old women are the only ones allowed to climb the mountains surrounding the villages to get the stones containing the iron and men cannot be sexually active during the melting process if they want it to be successful. We will meet with traditional chiefs and discuss with them the role of traditional chiefdom today.
A road crossing hilly regions offer appealing landscapes. We visit the region around the Massif Kabye, populated by a population of the same name. Their houses are called « Soukala »: a group of huts linked together with a wall. Within each house lives one patriarchal family. Very interesting: the blacksmiths who still work with heavy stones instead of hammers; The women who make traditional pottery and old style floors with pieces of their pottery.
When we reach Kante, a track across the Atakora Mountains takes us to the Tamberma people. For self-defence reasons, for centuries this people have taken refuge in the heart of the Atakora, a land so difficult to access that they could flee from any attack, especially from slave traders from Muslim North Africa. Those fortified dwellings, similar in form to medieval castles, are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier so much that he spoke of «sculptural architecture». In fact the houses are built by hand, layer after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. Later, we will meet with the Betammaribe (alias Somba) who live in the same natural environment of the Atakora Mountains just like the Tamberma. Similarly, they also build nice clay castles however, unlike the Tamberma, they follow a series of very suggestive initiatory rites. Young men between 18 and 20 years of age have their bellies scarified with delicate and complex geometrical patterns, deeply convinced that those scars are the only way to become “real” men. We will meet some of those young men to hear from them what they recall of their initiation. Girls also go through a scarification rite but in their case scars are made on the belly and on the back at the age of 20-22. Should a child be conceived before this initiation, scarification is carried out at the beginning of the pregnancy because the lack of scars could become harmful in the delivery process. All these initiatory rites form a cycle that starts during the weaning period (when the child’s face gets scarified) and whose completion symbolises the official birth as a member of the group. It is the infinite number of the very thin scars on their faces that forever reminds people they are Betammaribe.
The mountain of the “Fetish Priest”
We reach a Fulani camp. The Fulani are mainly shephers. The men move around with their herds while the women take care of the camp as well as milk the cows and produce the butter to be sold at the market.
The Fulani are famous for their beauty. In fact “Fulani” means “beauty”: Beautiful tattoos on their face send messages to the people who understand the language; beautiful slender bodies looking at their herds stand as a dot on the horizon; beautiful eyes able to contain so many landscapes contemplated during their migrations to find grazing. Their beauty is proportional to their slowness. Mysterious figures: they seem to be slower than anybody else and at the same time they move more than anybody else. Here is the mystery of a people who learnt how to tame time and space, history and geography.
Later an easy walk to discover old Taneka villages located on a mountain with the same name. The villages are made up of round houses covered with a conical roof protected at 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. This ethnic group has been living on an archaeological site for centuries, in fact it looks as if the first inhabitants (from Kabye origins) moved to the mountain during the IX century. Since then, other populations have joined to so form a kind of melting-pot where despite the fact that each group has kept its own cults and initiation rites, they defined common religious and political institutions.
As we wander around, along alleys bordered by series of smooth stones, we may come across half naked men. The Taneka people believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience and a lot of… blood from sacrificed animals. It actually is a lifetime process in the sense that life itself becomes a rite of passage. As a consequence, life should not be considered conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather as following a continuous path.
Transfer southwards. Visit of the Savalou shrine, an important place for animist pilgrims.
La porta del Vudù, Dassa
Dassa, sede di un antico regno fondato da Olofin nel 1385. La cittadina ospita siti che testimoniano di questa lunga storia. In particolare, faremo una gradevole passeggiata sulla collina dei Principi, dove un tempo erano sepolti i re. Il luogo è protetto da altari vudù. Incontreremo il capo. Nel pomeriggio assistiamo alla danza delle maschere.
Palazzi reali, da Dassa a Abomey
Trasferimento ad Abomey e visita del Palazzo Reale, i cui muri sono decorati con i simboli degli antichi re del Dahomey. Il palazzo è ora un museo che conserva tra l’altro le spoglie mortali dei re ed un tempio costruito con argilla mischiata a polvere d’oro e sangue umano. Il Regno del Dahomey stabilì le basi del proprio potere su uno stato permanente di guerra che gli permise di catturare prigionieri da rivendere come schiavi. L’esercito reale era formato anche da truppe femminili che si caratterizzavano per l’audacia e la bellicosità. Nel pomeriggio assisteremo alla spettacolare danza delle maschere di un culto, di una società segreta e di una maschera.
Su palaffite, da Abomey a Ouidah
Nella regione a nord di Cotonou si estende una vasta area lacustre che accoglie Ganvie, grande villaggio su palafitte. Lo raggiungeremo, a bordo di barche motorizzate, attraversando il lago Nokwe. Gli abitanti, dell’etnia Tofinou, costruiscono le loro capanne su pali di teck e ricoprono i tetti delle abitazioni con una spessa coltre di paglia. La pesca è l’attività principale della popolazione. L’isolamento in cui vivono ha permesso loro di conservare abitudini e regole ancestrali. Nelle piroghe, che uomini, donne e bambini conducono con facilità con l’aiuto di lunghe pertiche, si scandisce la vita quotidiana. E’ sulla piroga che si va a pesca, ci si sposta, si mettono in mostra le merci da vendere al mercato, si canta accompagnando il ritmo delle pertiche…La città di Cotonou è caratterizzata dal traffico costante di centinaia di zamidjans (moto-taxi). Come conseguenza, la città segue il ritmo dei semafori che fermano e riaccendono le moto-taxi. Divertitevi a guardarne il chaos. Visita della fondazione Zinsou: la prima fondazione privata del Benin dedicata all’arte contemporanea. Le sue esposizioni hanno l’intento di pubblicizzare la dinamica arte africana, troppo spessa pensata come ferma nel passato. Proseguimento verso Ouidah. La capitale del vudu.
Zangbeto, il fantasma
A Ouidah, antico porto del traffico negriero dall’architettura afro-portoghese decadente, coabitano uno di fronte all’altro il tempio dei pitoni e la cattedrale cattolica. La lentezza dei personaggi inondati dal sole… il battito lontano delle onde sulla spiaggia… il ritmo dei tamburi rappresentano l’eco mormorante di colonne di schiavi imbarcati su queste spiagge. Un’atmosfera al di fuori del tempo, molto ben descritta da Chatwin nel suo libro « Il viceré di Ouidah ». A Ouidah visiteremo il Tempio dei Pitoni, dove questi animali sono venerati come vudù protettori della città; il forte portoghese trasformato in museo sulla tratta degli schiavi ed infine la via del non-ritorno percorsa dai prigionieri prima di essere imbarcati in direzione del nuovo mondo. Nel pomeriggio assisteremo alle perfomances della maschera Zangbeto.
Nel cuore della terra del vudu! Da Ouidah a Lome
In tutta la regione del litorale del Benin e del Togo, il vudu è la religione tramandata dagli antenati ed è praticata con fervore. Quest’esperienza religiosa è molto più ricca e complessa dei cliché diffusi in Europa, secondo i quali il vudù non sarebbe altro che una bassa forma di magia nera. Si tratta invece di una religione che dà senso e ordine alla vita di milioni di persone, qui e altrove nel mondo. Ci spostiamo in “brousse” alla scoperta di questo culto. Presso un villaggio assisteremo ad una celebrazione vudù. Durante la cerimonia potrà accadere che tra suoni di tamtam e canti , il tale o talaltro Vudù s’impossessi di alcuni adepti, dando così luogo ad autentiche manifestazioni di trance. Arrivo a Lome e tempo libero da dedicare agli ultimi acquisti e al relax.