Mode of Execution at Dahomey, the Blood Drinker Waiting with His Calabash to Drink the Blood
This image depicts the sacrificing or execution of an enslaved man in the kingdom of Dahomey in the Bight of Benin region. Duncan does not refer to this illustration in particular, but in Vol. 1 he described "the bodies of people who had been executed," and noted that "decapitation is the favourite mode of execution in Abomey," the capital of Dahomey (p. 219-220). John Duncan (1805–1849) was a Scottish traveller in Africa and member of the Royal Geographical Society. He travelled through Dahomey territory in 1845. He returned home in 1846 after falling ill with malaria and having his leg amputated. Although the caption refers to the blood drinker, Duncan may have misunderstood what was taking place. Very rarely in sacrifices or ceremonies do the Dahomean practitioners of Vodun actually drink the blood. They were most often collecting it to pour it, usually from a gourd, onto ancestral shrines or shrines to members of the Vodun pantheon. Probably a better identification would be the blood server. More likely, this image represents a ritual specialist, who is collecting blood to be offered to an ancestral shrine or to a member of the Vodun pantheon. Numerous modern shrines throughout southern Benin contain iconographic representations of earlier (eighteenth through nineteenth centuries) ceremonies where human blood sacrifices were presented to the deity represented by the shrine.
John Duncan, Travels in Western Africa, in 1845 & 1846, comprising a journey from Whydah, through the kingdom of Dahomey (London, 1847), Vol. 2, facing title page.
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"Mode of Execution at Dahomey, the Blood Drinker Waiting with His Calabash to Drink the Blood", Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 15, 2021, http://slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/1579