Remi, a local guide, showed me the marketplace where slavers bartered 15 male Africans for one cannon. At The Tree of Forgetfulness, Remi explained how "slaves would circle nine times to magically forget everything, so they weren't sad in their new lives."
Approaching the coast, sea breezes rustled coconut groves while crabs gnashed their claws amid mangroves. Beneath an archway on the shoreline, designed to symbolise 'The Gates of No Return', I watched the pummelling Atlantic surf churn grey with sediment and contemplated the terrified thoughts of captured Africans being paddled out to waiting slave galleons bobbing on the horizon.
Many of them exported their Voodoo culture to colonies such as Brazil and Haiti, and the longer I spent in Ouidah, the more the still thriving undercurrent of spirit-worship began to reveal itself.
A TRIP TO THE MARKET
Ouidah's market sells grotesque ritualistic accoutrements used in ceremonies. A musty odour reeks from dehydrated bits of crocodile snouts, hippos' feet, pigs' penises, whole chameleons, pangolins, and (look away pet-lovers) cat and dog heads.
Lit by pretty candlelight, the market by night is usually more palatable. Until one evening, while enjoying a fried fish and tomato-infused maize meal, a huge commotion occurred. Chasing a screaming, scattering crowd was a creature maybe 7m high, a masqueraded figure, totally black and oddly tubular.
Amid pandemonium, the lady serving my meal screamed, ducked under my table and grabbed my legs. I raised my camera but several men with panic-stricken expressions warned me not to. The figure disappeared into the night.