We got closer to the vodun traditions through interesting, often confusing and palm-wine sodabi-fuelled encounters. We heard about the latent powers of the wooden twin dolls and got a peek into the secrets of the divine-god Fâ. We also visited Ouidah, the only school in Benin where vodun is an integral part of the curriculum.
Our community photography workshop on Togo’s side, on the other hand, helped us to understand deeper the everyday life of the vodun monastery children through their perspective. In these so-called boarding schools, many Beninese and Togolese spend time delving into their own deities.
Unlike the adults, children don’t need to spend day and night at the monastery; they sleep there and during the daytime, they help their families with house chores. The time in the monastery culminates to a ceremony of appeasing the deities, after which the initiates can continue their lives in the normal way. The pictures taken by the three eight-year-old girls in the monastery took us inside their experiences, memories and dreams.
Thanks to all this, our time in Benin was not left to merely view the new environment through the eyes of an outsider and through the lens of a camera. The experience formed a cultural dialogue with the people we met.