Nov. 7, 2016:
Wow! Today was kind of a unique day in that we got to meet a king! Follow along as we explain.
We came into port this morning as usual right about sunrise. As we came off the ship, brightly colored native dancers greeted us. Today, we moored in the capital city of Lomé, and mounted our busses for the day’s excursion, which involved going to the fetish market (which provides all things needed for the practice of voodoo), a school, and then to meet one of the kings of Togo and his royal court.
While the majority of Togo’s citizens identify as Christian, there are still many practitioners of voodoo, which is at the heart of the indigenous practice of animism (belief in the spiritual powers of nature such as thunder/lightning or the powers of certain animals). There are spells which are cast by the voodoo priests/priestesses using these components, and one wishing some kind of voodoo intervention gets a shopping list from the priest and goes to the fetish market. Lomé is home to one of the most popular fetish markets on the west coast of Africa. Pulling up in front of it, Jim and I questioned whether we even wanted to get off the bus, and the smell did not make the anticipation any easier. However, we signed up for the “real deal” experience, so we went to into the market. Like many other African markets, all the merchants were trying to sell us something, and even if we had wanted to buy something (NOT), it is doubtful we could have gotten it back on the ship; much less home!
Next, we drove into the country to a small town in a rural farming area to see an elementary school. Along the way, we dodged motorbikes, which are used as a sort of low cost form of Uber, and provide much needed opportunities for the youth to earn some money. Naturally, no one wore helmets, and the drivers seemed to double as delivery men, carrying huge bags of produce and wood in front of them as they drove.
Togo has an incredibly bad school system, with only about 66% of its population being literate (78% if you only count men). Education is not publicly funded, so many children (such as some we saw at the fetish market) don’t attend school because their parents cannot pay the school fees. Our guides told us that because of a total shortage of schools and teachers (and a population increasing by about 7% per year) most classes hold about 100 students. For our teacher friends out there, let me tell you that the horror of that statistic cannot be fully appreciated until you walk into one of these very primitive classrooms.
Nonetheless, the students had prepared some songs for us, and after we toured some classroom, we got back on the bus to go meet some Togolese royalty.
The king and his royal court met us at the entrance to their compound, and he and some of the village elders helped him perform a welcoming ceremony. As many of you know, in many countries in Africa, there are tribal chiefs and kings who still govern areas, particularly in the rural areas. In this case, the village we visited was Akepe, and the kingdom covers about 3,000 subjects. Some of those subjects were the school kids from the school we visited. The king’s royal court and his “notables” (nobles) ushered us in to a central gathering area, which, fortunately for us was shaded and had benches. Did I mention it’s really hot here almost on the Equator?!!!
There was a large group of villagers drumming and singing as we entered, and then there was a formal procession to usher the king and his court into the gathering area. The court was seated on actual thrones, and the king and queen wore crowns. There was no way to describe the royal couple but as completely “regal”!
After some dancing demonstrations, the king addressed us, answered some questions (through an interpreter) and even let us take photos with him.
We wrapped up our visit to the village compound, which, as you can see, is still very traditional for the most part. Jim got to see a goat being born, but the highlight for me was watching one of the women roast some cassava meal while holding both her 7 month old twins in her arms.
Then was back to the boat for a much needed sea day of rest! Hopefully, I’ll get caught up on the blog over the next day! Next port of call; São Tomé, of the tiny republic of São Tomé and Principe.