Dassa-Zoume: the voodoo temple, the Egun masks and the Sacred Hill

9th December 2017 

The surroundings of Dassa-Zoume in Benin, are the ideal place to know more about voodoo rituals and the animist religion. The Egun masks casually appeared along an highway, were a pleasant unexpected bonus.

Voodoo temple Voodoo altar
Animals sacrificed during a voodoo ritual
In Benin, not far from Dassa, the altar of the Dankoli divinity is one of the most frequented by the faithful of voodoo rituals and animist religion, who come here, even from very far away, to ask for support from the divinities, returning later to thank if the prayers were heard and if the requests made have been satisfied. The voodoo temple appears as a sort of altar where bones, feathers, skulls and other parts of animals sacrificed during the rites are piled up, all accompanied by a smell that leaves no doubt about the origin of the residues spread everywhere.
Dassa sacred hill
In Dassa we visit the Sacred Hill, a place where funerals of members of the royal families and voodoo rituals are carried out.
Baobab Sacred hill of Dassa
Dassa Dassa-Zoume
The Sacred Hill of Dassa offers a view of the city of Dassa-Zoume, among large baobabs and megaliths with curious basins that were once used to collect rainwater.
Ancient granary
Hidden among the large boulders, ancient granaries were also used as a refuge to escape from soldiers looking for people to be sold to the slave market.
Hill of the princes

At the top of Dassa Hill, known also as the Princes Hill, huge monoliths welcomes people during the funeral of kings.
Sacrificial stone
A sacrificial stone covered in blood, where during the funeral ceremony, an animal is sacrificed (normally a goat).
Remains of animals sacrificed Carved wood
Divinity of the temple
A voodoo temple on the Sacred Hill, with the divinity in the foreground (the structure made by straw), the carved wooden columns and the remains of the sacrificed animals.
Altar for rituals
Another sacred altar where propitiatory rituals are performed and where beer is offered to the divinity, pouring it into the small hole on the floor visible in the foreground.
Dassa wooden horse Otetan Adjikin Zomhoun
King on a wooden horse
The excursion in Dassa continues by visiting a small museum hosting the wooden horse donated by the Portuguese to King Otetan Adjikin Zomhoun at the beginning of the last century. The reason for the gift was because the king was usual to complain about real horses getting sick too frequently and dying, thus asking for a wooden horse without such problems. Some historical photos show the king moving on board the wooden horse with wheels.
Railway in Benin Dassa-Zoume railway station
In Dassa-Zoume there is the railway that connects Cotonou, the capital of Benin, to Parakou with the project of extending the line up to Niamey in Niger. The railway is used mainly by freight trains.
Street vendors in Benin Cassava flour
Just outside Dassa-Zoume, along the highway to Bohicon, there is a series of street vendors selling cassava flour (the white flour in the plastic bags), as well as oil and seeds packed in recycled plastic bottles. Each stall has a sign with the name and phone number of the manager, so a driver can quickly recognize the one he trusted to stop at the right point.
Egun festival
What's this kind of clown doing in front of a tire shop along the highway? We'll find out soon...
Egun mask ceremony
Egun mask festival

Africa is the continent of "anything can happen" and therefore it may occur that, while driving along a highway, you suddenly come across these Egun masks.

The Egun masks represent the spirits of dead people, who have returned to Earth to solve the problems of the community. Egun masks are feared by people because it is believed that a possible contact with them can cause the death, fear aggravated by the fact that they move around in an unpredictable way and sometimes they behave aggressively.

An Egun mask does not reveal anything of the person wearing the costume (and after all it is a spirit, not a person ... or not?). The costume has very bright colors and is decorated with the strangest and most improbable objects.

Periodically in Benin there is a festival dedicated to the Egun masks, a true show of colors, but if you are interested in such event, you need to plan carefully your trip to Benin accordingly to the calendar of the Egun mask festival.

Egun in Benin Egun costume
Egun mask
An Egun mask in Benin, seen from all the various angles.
Egun masks
Other Egun masks, among strange shapes and beautiful combinations of colors.
Egun
Smuggling petrol
This Benin highway is not far from the border with Nigeria, where gasoline costs much less. A sort of smuggling is therefore tolerated, with petrol being purchased at a very low price in Nigeria, before being re-sold in Benin at very affordable rates (more or less at 0.68 Euro per liter) using recycled bottles as tanks.

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