Procession of the Serpent, Whydah (Ouidah), Dahomey, April 1725

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This record was last updated on 27 Dec 2012

Image Reference

Jean Baptiste Labat, Voyage du Chevalier des Marchais en Guinee . . . fait en 1725, 1726, & 1727 (Amsterdam, 1731), vol. 2, p. 154, In Thomas Astley (ed.), A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels (London, 1745-47), vol. 3, plate 7, facing p. 42. ( Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)

Caption, "Procession to ye Temple of ye Great Snake on Crowning of ye King"; shows elaborate procession and details the order of each group by a letter designation. Procession includes groups of soldiers, various types of musicians, king's wives, members of the royal court, dwarfs, queen mother and her attendants, and priests (including the "great sacrificer or high priest"). The ceremony is described in Astley, p. 41 ff., but more details are given in Labat's illustration, titled "Procession au grand serpent pour le couronnement du Roy de Juda fait le 15 Avril 1725"; Labat identifies (by number and letter) approximately 30 features in this detailed illustration. For a description of this scene and its historical context, see Robert Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books, 2002), pp. 161-162. The defining characteristic of the religious system found in this area was the worship of serpents as earthly embodiments of the serpent diety Dangbe (thanks to Neil Norman for this information).