Thursday, October 29, 2009

Whip it....Whip it good

Tuesday was the Whipping fete or...fete de chicotte in Badjoude. Turns out it isn't a coming of age ceremony for Muslim boys but it is just a tradition of the Lokpa people who live in this area of Benin. Gong up to the Donga was probably one of the crazier or more impulsive things I've done since coming to Benin since it was a really long trip for 2 nights and quite a bit of traveling...but it was completely worth it. How many times in ones' life do they get to see grown men whipping each other?

Monday morning i got up early and took a taxi to azove, then an hour long zem ride up to bohicon where I caught the bus at 10 to go to Djougou. Once i got to Djougou I got on another zem for over an hour out to Heidi's village, Komde. I get annoyed with the dust here in the Kouffo during dry season, but my lord...I hadn't known dust until then. The rains are still falling a bit up north and even so I was literally covered in red earth when i got off the zem in Komde. It is a totally different world up north--far more arid and not at all tropical. And much more Muslim as well. Hearing the call to prayer was really beautiful...and Heidi's village is teeny tiny. I loved it. I got there around 3ish and then all the other volunteers (i was the only one that came up from the south) arrived after nightfall. The stars up in northern Benin are absolutely gorgeous. I think they are beautiful where i am, but there is even less light pollution up north--Heidi's village really doesn't have electricity--so you can just see everything. I love being able to walk around outside at night with just the light of the moon--I know I'll miss that. And now that the rains are finishing up it is once again beautiful to take a bucket shower under the stars. But anyways...

So there were 13 of us, and on Tuesday morning we woke up at 4:45 to get into Badjoude for Chicotte, which starts at daybreak. We were sitting in their marche when the first group of men came up dancing and stomping their feet to create a rattling noise (they had these reeds tied up with beans or somehting around their ankles to make a baby-rattle effect that created music) As the sun rose the fete got underway and many of the men and boys of the village came out marching toward the marche.

A lot of the men were dressed up as women with bras and skirts, etc., though I have no idea why. Women were marching with them, but when it comes down to the whipping, it is men only. They reached a small clearing and had at it. All the women, PCVs, kids, and some men were circled around the field and they just kept blowing their whistles and whipping it out. You kind of march around, get an opponent and brace yourself as they try to whip you before you whip them back. The whips are made of trees and reed-like things so they broke sometimes when someone met their touch with a raised stick in defense. There were men circling around carrying extra whips with them for just such an instance. You can't cry if you get whipped because the ceremony is supposed to show your manhood and that you are ready to fight. By the end, there were plenty of bloodied backs and arms but that is just a badge of honor. I myself, got smeared with blood by a passerby, and hit by a rogue whip--i guess it just means i am bien integre! Every few minutes there was a little “dance break” for lack of a better term. All whipping stopped and the women hopped in with the men, circling around making music and blowing whistles. After a few moments, everyone but the whippers ran back out of the circle nearly crushing the people on the periphery as the whipping would recommence. And on this cycle went for a good long while. Watching the younger boys whip each other or go up against an older man was really interesting, and I do not really understand how “opponents” chose one another. At one point, all the PCVs got into the circle in a dance break and moved around with everyone, and we got baby powder thrown on us just like the whippers. I don’t really understand that tradition either (I got doused at the voodoo day fete as well) but I think we were told it was just to keep people dry when they were perspiring.

ANyway, the fete was awesome to see and really interesting and I hope you enjoy the pictures I am putting up. I have a lot more and videos too but I think I put up a good sampling. We had a lunch planned with the second to the Maire of Ouke and before that, the King of Badjoude invited us to his house for Tchouk--a local alcohol that I really do not enjoy. But when we got to the Kings house he said he couldn't have us and not feed us so they whipped up igame pile with a delicious sauce and mouton for us, followed by a plate of rice. It was sooo much food and it was only lunch number one for the day. Really, it was a fantastic gesture for them to feed that many of us, and to give us meat besides. In general the people of Badjoude were thrilled that we were there—this is Kate’s village and given the past year, they did not think that we were going to come. I think that having such a large PCV presence was really great for their community morale and for Peace Corps as well. I had been apprehensive about going—I wasn’t sure if it would be sad or difficult being there, but it felt good getting to see where Kate lived and the friendly community members. Everyone there was just so welcoming, and the King took one of us aside to tell him how thrilled he was that volunteers came and how sorry he was about everything that happened with Kate. For awhile after it all happened in March, it was very difficult for me to not put a wall up against Benin and the people here, and so it was nice, I guess in a way, to come to understand first hand that her community grieves with us—that we aren’t the only ones here who are horrified and hurt by her death.

Afterwards we headed out for lunch number 2…more igame pile but with a different kind of sauce. Fortunately for me, igame pile is still a novelty because you really can’t get it down south, but most of the northern volunteers are pretty jaded by the pile deliciousness so I don’t think they were at all excited to be eating it in such quantity. By the time our bellies were stuffed to bursting, it was already almost 3 and we had been up since before 5am and walking around in the sun all day (note to self…buy a wide brimmed straw hat before trekking around Mali at Christmas time…the sun up in that arid climate kills) so we were exhausted. We hopped in our rented van and drove back to Komde where everyone took off toward Natitingou. I stayed in Komde 4 the night and got the grand tour of Heidi’s village before leaving her house at 6am to catch the bus in Djougou heading back down to Bohicon. I can’t believe whipping fete is already over—I remember talking about going to it with Heidi and Rut since last December, and now it has come and gone. There is no way I will be here for it next year. Im about to celebrate my second Halloween here, and it is almost November. I say it in nearly every blog entry now because it hits me nearly every day, but the time here is flying by so fast! I’m going up north to Kandi next week to do post visits for the Peer Support Network, in Benin (like a peer counseling thing—I go to visit new volunteers and see how they are doing while bringing them delicious baked goods since they technically aren’t allowed to leave their posts 4 the first 3 months) and with Halloween on Saturday, more pictures are definitely forthcoming. Happy Halloween! Enjoy your cold weather.

Man dressed to the nines in the march to the marche in Badjoude

A view from Badjoude

Making Igame Pile (usually it is women making it, so i really like this shot) favorite meal in Benin. Get psyched, mom and dad...we'll be entering igame pile land when you come! The 3 people work themselves in a rhythm, pounding the cooked igame with water until it is a delicious blob.

Little girl walking by a baobob tree...I just like how small she looked here. Baobobs are HUGE. There aren't too many in this area compared to up north.

lunch #1 with king of Badjoude

obama-rama at its finest in Benin. When you make it onto a sweetened condensed milk can in a random little village in West Africa...that's how you know you've hit the big time

This and the next few pics are just of some of the men dressed up for the whipping

Sacred tam-tam (drum) of Badjoude used to announce warfare, etc.

Action shot of the whipping

boy bracing himself for the whip

Me, Heidi, and Christopher

more whipping

chaos...absolute chaos. This was what it looked like...hundreds and hundreds of people crammed in a tiny field, where all the men and boys were whipping each other all willy nilly.

group shot!

1 comment:

Maman et Papa said...

We are so looking forward to our trip. I hope you have great plans for us to enjoy all what Benin has to offer!

Great story - love you!!!