Fa is the god or spirit of Fate and a Fa reading is a type of fortune telling that dates back thousands of years, performed by a specially qualified Fa priest using traditional materials of cowrie shells and beads.
To get a Fa reading it is best to go through a local guide who will organise a reputable one. You need to take gifts and plenty of money. Gifts are in the form of alcohol, and the money is to pay for your "prescription".
Once you have handed over your gifts the Fa reader throws the cowrie shells onto the ground and interprets the way they land. There are 256 interpretations. He will then tell you the result and tell you what your prescription is - this usually involves some kind of sacrifice. The reading was traditionally written on a wooden board but they are now written on paper.
The whole thing is not cheap! I needed a particularly expensive prescription.................
See my Benin travelogue for more details Fa Reading
A Voodoo ceremony is very interesting. The one I attended was held in a rural village outside Abomey and was dedicated to the Warrior spirit Cokou. It was organised by a local guide who went ahead to the village to ask permission and allow the villagers to make the preparations. He also paid for the required ingredients to be bought – chickens, local gin, palm oil and cornflour.
The ceremony took about 2 hours in total and we were made to feel very welcome by the priest and the villagers participating. I was allowed to take photographs throughout, and when it was finished the participants came to shake hands.
The followers of the traditional religion are happy to be able to have a ceremony, as they like to do this and it is important to them to keep the spirits happy.
See Travelogue in my Benin page for more details and pictures- Voodoo
This small monument can be easily missed as you rush past it to the UNESCO world heritage site of the kings palace museum.
However, it has quite an interesting history to it. During the time French were fighting the Kings of Dahomey (the old name for Abomey), the Germans, who controlled Togo next to Benin, sold the Kings of Dahomey a French cannon they had captured from the French. The Dahomey army needed help in using the cannon so some German soldiers travelled to Dahomey to help them and ended up fighting the French. The Germans got killed so the people of Dahomey built the monument in their honour.
The Royal Palace Museum in Abomey is a UNESCO world heritage site. At the time of the French defeat of King Ghebanzin in 1894 the palace complex contained 12 palaces and covered an area of 44 hectares with a 10metre high wall surrounding it. The original palace was built in the early 17th century and each successive King built his own palace in the compound, as it was considered unlucky to live in a previous Kings palace. Each palace would have 2000 to 3000 people living there.
The museum, like the others I visited in Benin, is well laid out with interesting displays, but the information is in French. I had my own guide, but you can get an English speaking guide if you book in advance and it is well worth it for the stories abut the city and the exploits of the kings. You will need at least 2 hours here to really get the benefit and an understanding of the exhibits.
King Ghebanzin burnt most of the city of Abomey and the palaces to stop the French taking them over. The palaces that remain are those of King Guezo (1818 – 1858) and King Glele (1858 – 1889) and each palace has a courtyard leading to an inner palace.
In King Glele’s palace you can see artworks, musical instruments, a hut dedicated to the ancestors, the council building. The Room of war contains clubs, spears, swords and guns and an explanation of the tactics of the famous Amazon armies who were the elite raiding force of the Kings. King Glele’s throne sits on the skulls of 4 of his enemies and his fly swat handle is made from a skull of another enemy!
Another of the most interesting exhibits is the temple to the harem. Each King had hundres of women in his harem and 41 were chosen to be presented to him each evening – 41 being a sacred number. When he died over a hundred of the Kings wives volunteered to be buried with him. 41 were chosen and they were buried alive underneath where the temple now stands. You can go inside but you have to go in forwards and out backwards as you are entering the spirit world.
The Kings are said to be buried in their palaces, but nobody knows where – the people who buried the king then had to commit suicide. It was considered a great honour to do this and the family of the people who buried the kings were held in great esteem.
Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photographs inside the museum.
Open Monday – Friday 8.30 to 6, and weekend and holidays 9.30 to 5.
Goho Square was the scene of the last battle King Ghebanzin had with the French in 1894. The French almost lost but got help from the English in order to win. King Ghebanzin refused to let the French take over the city and burnt it almost to the ground. After this he was exiled to Martinique and then to Algeria where he died. He was succeeded by King Agoli-Ago who was determined to carry on the fight but he was also deported – to Gabon.
King Ghebanzin’s body was later returned to Abomey and this square, with his statue, was built in his honour. Around the square are many egg shaped sculptures which represent King Ghebanzin’s motto – the kingdom is like a fragile egg that must be protected.
Dan, the serpent god, is one of the main Voodoo gods in Benin, with great historical significance in Abomey. You will see many temples dedicated to Dan here. The old name for Abomey was Dahomey which, in the language of the main tribe here the Fon, means in the belly of Dan. Legend says that the sons of the King of Allada travelled to Dahomey which was then a village. The chief of the village was called Dan, after the Serpent god, and the Kings sons kept asking him for more land to build palaces. Eventually he refused, so he was murdered by having his stomach slit open and rocks put into it. Then he was buried in the foundations of the palace of the new King. The Kings of Dahomey continued to overcome opposition in this generally ruthless and bloody way for about 300 years until the French took over in the late 19th century.
The Royal Palaces of Abomey are one the UNESCO World Heritage list. While we were studying the slave trade, I took the whole middle school from the American School of Niamey on a six day trip to Benin. On our visit, we were lucky enough to have had Amadée as our guide. He was extremely informative, very helpful, spoke great English, and was really good with the kids. It was a very good experience, and I would highly recommend him. He went out of his way to get special permission to take pictures inside the palaces, which is forbidden. He also took us to see an authentic voodoo ceremony. One should be skeptical about the authenticity of guided ceremonies, but we just happened to be at this temple when one ocurred. Look in our travelogue on the Palaces of Abomey for more pictures and comments
There are many fruit bats which fly around feeding at dusk. One of the places to see them is in the grounds of the Motel Abomey, in the big tall trees just to the right of the main building.