Africa, the Outside EdgeOct 10, 2007
Author: Kingsley Holgate
We continue the story of modern day explorer Kingsley Holgate and the yearlong humanitarian journey around Africa following the coastline, known as Africa the Outside Edge…
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nets for pregnant mums and children who are under the age of five
After the madness and chaos of Lagos and Nigerian roads, little Benin seems like an oasis of calm. Sure the sprawling city Cotonou has 10’s of 1000’s of mopeds but gone are all the roadblocks and outside the city we find what is considered to be the largest lake village on the continent. It is the Venice of Africa with over 20,000 people living above the water in huts built on stilts and people commuting in dugout canoes.
The name of the village is Ganvie – our boatman tells us it means place of safety because during the slave trade people there were safe from invasion by the Dan-homey slavers because for religious reasons it was forbidden to extend their attacks over water.
Malaria is rife in Ganvie and it is a fascinating exercise as we distribute life saving mosquito nets to mums and babies who arrive at the little hospital by dugout canoe, tiny babies strapped to their backs. Most of these Tofinu speaking women make a living from trading in fish which are grown and trapped in a network of branches that make up the underwater fences known as Akadja.
lining up for life-saving nets – the mothers that is, not the cattle…
Ross has gone down with a terrible bout of malaria. Its crazy isn’t it? How sometimes we risk our lives to save lives. Tomorrow if Ross is well enough we’ll go down to the voodoo stronghold of Ouidah where through the Gates of No Return slaves from Benin took the voodoo religion to the distant America’s, the Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba and Haiti – we need to know more – it’s all part of discovering Africa’s outside edge.
The humidity is thick as golden syrup. Ross is struggling – he’s puked up the first four pill doses of Coartem, so we give him anti-nausea tablets, wait awhile and re-commence the malaria treatment. It’s scary.
Ross has recovered from malaria. We’re in the voodoo python temple at Ouidah in Benin – pythons draped around our necks and then to the sacred forest of Kpasse – we’ve come here to learn more about voodoo. I reach up and touch the tree which the 14th Century chief Kpasse turned himself into to hide from his enemies.
Kingsley pays his respects to the voodoo king who turned into a tree
Thousands of fruit bats fly overhead. Voodoo statues are everywhere. There’s a fertility god with a massive erect penis, there’s a snake that’s eating himself, and forest men bring us a live python. There’s a voodoo god of protection, thunder and lightning, there’s the god of metal and the god of soil.
To the accompaniment of drums, singing and dancing in the sacred forest His Majesty the voodoo King Mito Daho Mindji Kpassenon writes in the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention: “I do appreciate what you are doing for peace and malaria. We voodoo people thank you for this great work.”
There’s a ceremony in our honour. The king looks at us through the fringe of tassels that hang from his wide-brimmed embroidered hat. An aide twirls a large umbrella decorated with voodoo symbols above His Majesty’s head, another holds a long handled golden bladed spear. There’s frenetic drumming and dancing and in a nearby hut chickens are sacrificed. Malaria is rife here and later that afternoon still in the sacred forest we distribute life-saving mosquito nets to pregnant mums and mums with little children – it’s what we’ve come to do.
Tomorrow it’s back in Land Rovers and a Gemini inflatable boat travelling with a delightful team of journalists that Lesley Sutton from Land Rover has flown in with. We’re heading for the slave port of Grand Popo – in this crazy land of voodoo may God be with us.
The voodoo fetish markets of Benin and Togo are a hell of an experience. Dried lizards and chameleons, dogs heads elephant feet, dead owls, porcupine quills, sititunga hooves, baboon and hyena skulls, dried cats’ heads and bits of leopard skin. The voodoo medicine man chants incantations and rattles shells. Incense burns and there’s the smell of rotting flesh from the 10’s of 1000’s of bits of skin, bone and hair that adorn the fetish display tables outside. There’s powerful muthi here and customers come from afar a field as Gabon, the DRC, Congo Brazzaville, Ghana and Nigeria.
Today’s customer is from South Africa, he’s got a great grey bushy beard and with a bunch of ‘crazies’ is following the outside edge of Africa in Land Rovers and inflatable boats – money changes hands, a small item is placed in an empty tortoise shell.
Three times the Beard must repeat his name as each time he holds the tortoise shell to his chest. Kingsley, Kingsley, Kingsley he says softly, and remember, says the voodoo man, you must give it three drops of water a year, just a little through the hole in the top of his head, and once a year a cigarette to puff through the small hole that serves a mouth. The white chalk dusted, clay sculptured little voodoo protection fetish is to protect the owner’s home or possessions against theft.
our fetish protection stuck onto the Land Rover dashboard and having its annual smoke – I hope it works
Later observers are amazed to find it glued to the dashboard of a Land Rover that’s decorated with the 33 countries of the flags that make up the outside edge of Africa – “Let’s hope it works” says the Beard.
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