one of the spirit costumes at the Egungun Voodoo dance in Cove

All went well. We met up with the our travel group and the truck around lunchtime, which we celebrated without food, but with lots of beer. And then we climbed onto the truck again, and all was as before. Except that the group seemed rather exhausted – especially compared to our pretty relaxed last few weeks. The stories about Nigeria were both gruelling and fabulous: they had a hard time travelling, often difficult to get fuel, and impossible to get Nigerian cash. They had long days driving, not only because of large distances, but also often because of road blocks, by police, pseudo-police, army, anybody really, sometimes less than 500 meters apart! And yet they managed to get through without much bribing, and they had a number of great encounters, with dressed-up kings, with mask ceremonies and in a Lagos floating city neighbourhood. Mixed feelings, really: this diary would probably have been much more entertaining covering all these experiences, good and bad. Anyhow, it wasn’t to be.

the countryside on the way to Cove, plenty of thatched roofs again

and small, round huts for food storage, I reckon

and then, in the middle of nowhere, this huge cement factory

next to what is the standard construction here, simple bamboo hut and thatch roof

also along the road, Voodoo temples start appearing again

like this one, close to Cove

at the start of the Egungun dance the spirits come one by one out of the temple, behind

and take seats on a bench, in preparation

the band has been playing for a while, accompanied by a small choir


one by one the spirits swirl around in the dancing space

every time another one gets up

but it is hot,

and they need their rest

from time to time

the chasing of bystanders is real, and so is their fear

In the mean time we have moved north, to the town of Cove, where we are presented with our first Voodoo dance, in one of the outlying neighbourhoods. The people here are a mix of Yoruba, originally from Nigeria, and Mahi, a local tribe. The dance, called the Egungun, involves lots of different costumes – representing spirits – that perform a kind of a wild dance, involving moving hips and arms. They seldom act together, it is almost always one at the time, and after a few minutes they take a break again, on a bench put there for the purpose. So once in a while one disappears in the temple behind, and minutes later another costume appears. We count a total of 11 different spirits, some of whom make it a sport to run after the spectators, especially the children. A small group of minders, armed with branches, tries to control the spirits, to avoid direct contact with the spectators – this would be really bad, because the spirit cloth is sacred, cannot be touched by simple mortals.

the bench, from behind

a particularly tall spirit

and these are recognisable, from their elephant trunks from cowrie shells

brilliant costume

or what about this one?

and an aplique costume and pink hand

This particular ceremony is to please the ancestors: if somebody in the community dies, they not really die, but live on invisibly, yet, still need to be fed. The story goes that if somebody sees his or her ancestor in a dream, it means that the ancestor doesn’t get enough food, and a ceremony is called for to rectify that. Voila. Some of the ancestors return in the form of spirits; the child who performs, is the spirit of a child who died earlier.


To be honest it is all a bit artificial. Nice to see, beautiful costumes, great accompanying drum band, but little sense of authenticity. But that is what you get if you organise ceremonies specifically for tourists, I suppose. And in any case, we see some of the ceremonies and dances that would otherwise have been hidden to us.

We check in in a remarkably large, pretty nice hotel, unexpected in this remote area, far removed from the cities of Cotonou and Porto Novo.

Next: village life and our second Voodoo dance

the last spirit to appear, with horns and trunk

and this is how he looks from the back

all admiring each other

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