The Slave Coast is the “birthplace” of Voodoo, or Vodun as
it is known in Benin. Many of the same practices and objects
of religious significance found hundreds of years ago can
still be found in Benin today. Though in Beninese urban centers
Christian or Muslim beliefs have largely replaced Vodun, Vodun
continues to permeate the culture.
Vodun practitioners (Vodunsi) acknowledge numerous separate deities in addition to the spirits of the deceased. Vodunsi are often charged with approaching the deities and spirits to plead for children, prevent illness, amass fortune, defeat enemies, to deserve the grace of the gods and to merit paradise after death. Many of the gods are represented by natural phenomena – the sea, the sun, the moon, fire, trees, and the disease smallpox. Worship of the serpent god Dan, or Dangbe, whose ancestors are the python, is particularly prevalent in Ouidah as it was in the ancient kingdom of Xwéda.
Different deities have appointed priests, specific objects
for worship, and varied required religious practices to be
performed by believers. Ceremonies, which often occur seasonally,
typically involve costumes and bodily adornment, dancing,
chanting, and the playing of instruments such as gongs and
drums. The Ouidah Museum of History addresses Vodun in the
present and past through a presentation of artifacts recovered
through archaeological excavation, objects used in deity and
ancestor worship, and images from sacred ceremonies.
The science of divination is practiced alongside Vodun in Bénin. Those seeking to know the future or to discover a truth can approach the divination practitioners, who use traditional tools and methods to satisfy the seeker. Through a presentation of many of these tools, the museum seeks to enlighten the visitor of the religious tradition of the area.