February 3, 2012 NYT – “On the Vodun Trail in Benin” by Joshua Hammer

http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/travel/on-the-vodun-trail-in-benin.html

Excerpts:

We returned to Ouidah and its main attraction, the Temple of Pythons, in the sleepy main square across the plaza from the soaring Basilica. An Italian couple and a couple from Nigeria joined us on a tour conducted by the vodun priest, a young man who led us to the temple, a concrete building with a clay roof. Five steps led down to a pit where at least a hundred serpents lay in tangled piles.

Vodun adherents regard pythons as manifestations of the serpent god Dangbe. “We let them out of the temple at night, so they can wander through the town,” the priest said. “They eat chickens, mice, and then they return.”

We were driving through the back alleys of Ouidah, a sultry former slave port in the West African nation of Benin, when we spotted him: a figure in robes and leather gloves. His face was hidden by a burlap hood studded with beads and cowrie shells. A teenage boy carrying a wooden stick was leading him past peach-colored houses shaded by coconut palms and mango trees.

The figure cowered against a wall, and began babbling in an eerie metallic voice. The teenage protector raised his stick and I retreated back to the car.

The man was a revenant — an important figure in the indigenous, animist religion known as vodun. Also called Egunguns in the local Fon language, these hooded men, whose identities remain a secret even to their neighbors, are believed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead and often parade through villages, summoning the spirits of departed ancestors. Touching a revenant during a trance, it is believed, can be fatal…

Photos accompanying NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/02/04/travel/20120205-benin.html
Captions:

A priest at the Thron voodoo temple and devotees handle a wrapped object whose contents are only revealed to Thron voodoo practitioners.
At the entrance of the Thron voodoo temple in Ouidah is a small hole where the package will be placed. The package is known as “The Source.”

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