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
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.