LAT­ERAL THINK­ING

JES­SICA ANTOLA drove west to east across Africa to pho­to­graph the ways peo­ple de­fine them­selves through dress and rit­ual, work and play in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa. Here she de­scribes BENIN and ETHIOPIA

Condé Nast House & Garden - - DESIGN NOTES -

benin

We spent about a month trav­el­ling around West africa. Benin was the first coun­try we vis­ited, start­ing in Cotonou and driv­ing the length of this rel­a­tively small coun­try (10 times smaller than ethiopia) north to Burk­ina Faso via Togo. Benin is rich in cul­ture, his­tory and the om­nipresent voodoo re­li­gion.

From Cotonou we went to Porto-novo, the cap­i­tal, and saw the Zang­beto Tem­ple. Zang­beto, in the Yoruba tra­di­tion, are the voodoo guardians of the night. Their cos­tume re­sem­bles a haystack, which is said to be in­hab­ited by spir­its. The Zang­beto are highly ven­er­ated and were, his­tor­i­cally, the un­of­fi­cial po­lice, scar­ing away en­e­mies and en­forc­ing law and or­der.

Close to Cotonou, we spent a morn­ing on Lake nok­oué. The Tofinu peo­ple of gan­vie built stilted houses on the lake dur­ing the 16th and 17th cen­turies to es­cape euro­pean slave traders and they still live there to­day, us­ing boats for trans­port.

For­tu­nately, our tim­ing was right to wit­ness sev­eral voodoo masked cel­e­bra­tions. near abomey we saw the gelede, a Yoruba cel­e­bra­tion ded­i­cated to Mother earth that ed­u­cates and en­ter­tains. dur­ing the cer­e­mony, the fig­ures on the per­form­ers’ masks move to re­veal mes­sages, which re­sem­bled Psas. Top­ics in­cluded con­dom use, the im­por­tance of clean drink­ing water, and malaria pre­ven­tion. In the dassa re­gion we saw the egun­gun mas­quer­ades, which rep­re­sent the spir­its of the de­parted Yoruba ances­tors. how­ever, lo­cals say that they are in­deed the de­ceased re­turn­ing for the cel­e­bra­tion. dur­ing the cer­e­mony, if a spirit touched a spec­ta­tor they would im­me­di­ately col­lapse, seem­ingly dead. Mo­ments later, they were res­ur­rected to re­join the cel­e­bra­tion.

tofinu girls

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