Cruises: voodoo with Saga in Africa

imageIf you think you know what Saga stands for, a cruise with the company that takes in Togo, Benin, fetishes and voodoo might change your mind. It’s the perfect introduction to West Africa

There are two surprises about this cruise. One is where it went, and the other is the cruise line.

If you drew up a list of the countries you are least likely to visit on holiday, they would probably include most of those on this journey down the west coast of Africa. Benin, anybody? Togo? And if you had to think of a tour company to run such an intrepid voyage, Saga might not immediately come to mind. How wrong you would be – as I was – on both counts.

In Benin, for example, we were taken by canoe to Ganvié, where a population of 30,000 lives in a town built on stilts in the shallow waters of Lake Nokoué. Ganvié dates from the 17th century, when the Tofinou people fled to the lake to escape slavers. Transport is entirely by canoe. Amid the houses, schools, shops, hotels, hospital, churches and mosques, all standing up to their knees in the water, artificial islands have been made so children can learn to walk.

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And in Togo we came under the spell of voodoo. In a field in the village of Hlandé, men performed a voodoo dance to an unremitting salvo of drumming. A swaying choir of women and children clapped and chanted as giant effigies atop tent-sized skirts of coloured grass were moved about the field. Each took six men to lift. At the dance’s climax the skirts opened to reveal warriors hidden inside – an African take on the Trojan horse.

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