Message from the dead
9:00:08 8 January 2024
The drumming has stopped. The dust kicked up by the ancestors has settled. Their human overlookers have retired with their sticks and the priest is in his corner with his words and shells and cloths. The ancestors sit on a bench facing me. I kneel. One asks me in the broken voice of the dead what I am here for. I tell them. They lean forward. The priest hands me the shells. I throw them. All four land face open. A shout goes up. The compound is suddenly alive with the unseen. An ancestor removes his breast plate and places it on the ground in front of me. I drop money onto it and the priest picks it up with a pair of tongs. I am overcome by the meaning of something I don’t understand. I leave, blessed.
Every year the Fête du Vodoun takes place across Benin, beginning on 10th January, it’s epicentre the city of Ouidah. In Egungun ceremonies like the one described, family and community ancestors return via masked dancers to be remembered, to warn, and to protect.
Images © Dave Waddell and Hannah Rayner