Today I met the King of Klouekanme (aka, Roi Guinunu de Klouekanme, Président Départemental des Tradi-Praticien de Couffo, Président des religions traditionnelles de la commune de Klouekanme)
That was awesome.
I hadn’t had the guts to walk into the voodoo temple before, and my friend Parfait offered to take me whenever I wanted. I didn’t realize that he meant 30 minutes after I asked him. So he picked me up on his motorcycle and we drove through the village to the voodoo temple. It has paintings of practitioners performing animal sacrifices on its walls and statues of the founders in the entryway. All of that is more symbolic than anything. The figures are usually holding symbols of gods who represent something the temple specializes in, or animals that represent certain threats or needs (as far as I understand).
So we walked into the house across from the “voodoo palace” and spoke to the King’s second in charge, who gave us a quick interview to verify who we were and what we wanted. We had to take our shoes off before entering the house (comme d’habitude). Then he went to grab the king and we waited there.
He had pictures of former kings on the walls, a bottle of sodabi on the table next to a horse hair whip and a bell, as well as a poster of the Real Madrid soccer team, another with a picture of Jesus and a Bible quote written in French, and a third the a woman holding Muslim prayer beads with a prayer written in Arabic.
He also had three televisions, two boom boxes, and a collection of glasses all in the same large cupboard.
Then a man came into the room without saying a word and just stared at us for a while. We said hello and he made some sort of motion with his eyes but didn’t say anything.
The king came into the room in a flurry of white. He had white tissue fabric draped all over him, and rising into a hood with two large Mickey Mouse ears on the side of the tight fitting hood. It sounds humorous, but I was super intimidated when he walked in. slash. A little freaked out. He didn’t speak a lot of French, mostly Adja, so we communicated through my friend Parfait.
We got on our knees to show respect and he waved us up real quick. Then we explained our project we’re doing in village and asked him if he would speak at the opening ceremony. He agreed and took us to see the Palace. I put my shoes back on to cross the muddy street to the palace. While we crossed the street a woman got down on her hands and knees in front of him and kissed his feet, then got up and walked away.
Before entering the Palace, we again had to take off our shoes, even though the temple was outdoors and muddy. Inside the Palace walls, he explained what they do there, talked about the former Kings in the village, and invited me back the next morning to give me a proper tour of it. I agreed and we headed back to his house.
He gave me his number and then asked me what I wanted him to provide for tomorrow. I froze. Let me explain this a little further. The king of my village and commune, the president of the practitioners of traditional religions in the Couffo department asked me what I wanted from him. His secretary thought I misunderstood instead of being horrified of not knowing what to say. To refuse a gift is rude. The secretary says, in French, “The king has asked you what you want him to provide for you. Drinks? Food?” All of the people in the room had been giving me the same uncertain look that the other man had earlier. I ended up saying the first thing that came to mind: “sodabi.”
Everyone in the room laughed and the king said, “You really are African!”
Disclaimer: The opinions described in this blog are mine, and in no way reflect those of the Peace Corps.