Caribbean Thoughts

by Carol Mitchell

Benin – Rue des Esclaves

I wrote a little about Benin in a previous post when we encountered a particularly kind soul on the road. Here are some of the other adventures we had in Benin.

We visited Ouidah, a small town in Benin and the center of the Voudoun religion. We encountered the sacred forest and held snakes around our necks at the Temple of Pythons. Note that the pythons are allowed to roam freely at night. We were told that if you find one in your bedroom at night, you can simply pick it up and take it back to the temple.

Fetish statue in the sacred forest

Pit of Pythons-my friends put this fellow around their neck

We then walked the ‘Rue des Esclaves’ (Road/Walk of the Slaves), which is a 2 mile route that captured Africans were made to walk. The road leads to the sea where the slaves were made to board ships and were taken to their lives of bondage in the West. This walk began at Chacha Place, the site of the slave market where the captured would have been auctioned and branded. We stood in a courtyard under a large tree and read the first of many statues scattered along the path that we were about to take.

Former slave market – start of the walk of the slaves

We walked through the village dotted with fetish monuments.

Statues along the ‘Rue des Esclaves’

There were several points of interest along the way, but one of the most memorable for me was the spot in which the Tree of Forgetfulness once stood. This tree was planted by King Agadja, a Dahomey King who ruled from 1718 to 1732 and was instrumental in the capture of humans for sale to Europeans. He believed that the tree had magical powers and that when the captured men and women walked around it, they would forget their past life and identities and easier accept their fate in their new country. Men were made to walk round it 9 times and women 7 times.

The walk took us through a very simple village. We passed two basic cafes and two small souvenir stores, but there was none of the touristic development which one would normally find at a place of such historic moment. As a result, we were unprepared for what we found at the end of the 2 mile walk. La Porte du Non-Retour (The Port of No Return) is a large monument on the beach. It was built in 1992 and is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is an enormous arch flanked by two modern bronze sculptures. All this is centered on a large platform, raised a couple feet off the ground. At the top of the arch, on each side, there is a sculpture of two rows of humans with their hands chained behind their backs, converging on a waiting slave ship. Their faces appear distraught. Behind them is a palm tree, a symbol of their home and lost freedom.

The brass sculptures on either side of the arch are ribbon-like figures representing slaves. On one side, three figures stand with their hands chained together. On the other side, a family huddles close together with one of the adults covering the head of the child. It is a powerful monument, a striking remembrance of the victims of slavery and a reminder that such horrible acts should be stopped and never allowed to happen again.

Monument at the end of the ‘Walk of the Slaves’

Plaque at la Porte de Non-Retour

UNESCO Monument

Beach at la Port de Non-Retour

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