Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.The Ouidah Museum of HistoryCowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.
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A "sacred" python:  the kingdom of Dahomey adopted worship of the python from the Xwéda kingdom, and python veneration is continued in Ouidah to this day.
About the Museum
Themes
Portuguese Fort
  Xwéda Kingdom
  Dahomey
  Slave Trade
 
  Benin and the Diaspora
History of Ouidah
Visiting the Museum
Visiting Ouidah
Resources
Vodun

Click to enlarge: "Bochio":  an empowerment object (usually wooden statuary) used by Vodun practitioners to negotiate with the vodun pantheon.
Bochio
 

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.

Click to enlarge: Divining Board, used in combination with various objects such as shells or large seeds to predict the future.
Divining Board
 

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.

Shield adorning the entrance to the old Portuguese Fort, now the Ouidah Museum of History.
Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.