The Day of The Door of Return Journey to Benin March 31 – April 4, 2004

This full day begins on the beach of Ouidah , Benin – the place where millions of African persons were enslaved and sent to countries throughout the world.  This beach is one of the many that begin the tragic journey of the Middle Passage.  This beautiful beach is now quiet and the home of PROMETRA’s diaspora bridge project entitled, The Door of Return ( La Porte de Retour).  As one travels to this beach, we drive down the earth paved street, Route of the Slaves, lined with individual statues that depict the history of African culture.  At the end of this road, The Republic of Benin has built a monument, Gate of No Return, to stand as a global symbol regarding the atrocities of slavery and the hope of the future.

We begin our ceremonial participation with welcoming rituals performed in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean .  We will then participate in the Opening Welcoming Ceremony where we will meet and hear presentations given by theRepublic of Benin , National Culte du Vodoo, UNESCO and other visiting dignitaries.  Following these presentations , we will walk to the welcoming stature, “Mother Africa Welcomes Her Returning Children.”  This statute portrays the children of the world’s diaspora returning from the sea, back to the arms of Mother Africa.

We then will walk through The Door of Return to enter the grounds of this diaspora commune.  This gate symbolizes a large, open, welcoming door, inviting one to enter.  The invitation is for all of the world’s people to enter – as all people evolved from the birthplace of man, Africa .  One approaches a large, carved column statute which symbolizes and depicts the commonness and humanity of all peoples.  It is here where we ask you to forget your occupation and your station in life, and become simply one human being in the family of man.  This is the only true way to undertake this important and life changing journey.

This land is special in many ways – its history of slavery, its richness in agriculture, its home to the African kingdoms ofDahomey and of the Hulwa people.  This specific commune is also the home of a small vodoun shrine honoring one of the forty-one vodoun spirits.  We begin by paying our respects to this spirit and his shrine.  We will participate in a short ceremony and ritual that will be led by a local Vodoun priest.  It is usual for one to provide an offering to the spirits to ask for their blessings and guidance.  These offerings can be food, candles, powder or one of the sacred fluids (water, milk, blood).  This ceremony will include an animal sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a very important part of this system of spirituality and we will invite you to understand its sacredness.

We then continue our day’s journey by visiting The Museum of the Door of Return – a museum recently built to honor the slavery period of African history and to celebrate the life of the generations of those who survived its atrocities. This will be a participatory experience in which we invite you to share the experiences of slavery – from the breasts ofAfrica to the shores of the western world.  The journey one travels is from the bondage to the breaking of the chains.

You enter the museum passing bronze sculptures of enslaved Africans breaking free of their chains.  These statues are the work of Nigerian artist, Benjamin Mafort of Lagos .  The last room of this museum is dedicated to the ancestors of those who visit us from distant shores.  We want to welcome all back home, especially our ancestors of those who visit us from distant shores and ancestors who are unable to return physically.  Please bring with you a small memento of your departed ancestors (a photo, piece of clothing, letter,, favorite object) that we will ask you to place in this museum. A small ceremony to welcome them back to their homeland provides a bridge for them.  This room will soon be full of the names and mementos of thousands of ancestors of the diaspora whose souls will rest peacefully here.

The afternoon at the “Door of Return” concludes with time for reflection, a short visit to the river or beach, and  participation in the ceremonial fire ritual which will be the closing event of our day.