African Archaeological Review

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 187–218 | Cite as

Powerful Pots, Humbling Holes, and Regional Ritual Processes: Towards an Archaeology of Huedan Vodun, ca. 1650–1727

  • Neil L. NormanEmail author
Original Article


Situated along the “Slave Coast” of West Africa, the international coastal trading entrepôt of Ouidah is infamous as the point of embarkation for hundreds of thousands of people spirited into the Middle Passage. Accordingly, scholars have looked to it and the surrounding region as a font of culture and history for diasporic groups. In scholarly narratives, the larger Gbe-speaking region surrounding Ouidah is characterized as the homeland of Vodun, a religious tradition that influenced diasporic religions throughout the Atlantic world. This paper explores early Huedan Vodun at a local level and works to bolster, and at the same time problematize, the project of addressing Vodun at increasing geographic scales and temporal depths. It builds on longstanding research which recognizes that context is critical for interpreting possible ritual or religious significance of archaeological material.


Vodun Ouidah Hueda (Whydah) Kingdom Savi Archaeology of religion Ritual ceramics Atlantic Africa 



The author wishes to thank Adria LaViolette, Kenneth Kelly, J. Cameron Monroe, Jeffrey Hantman, Grey Gundaker, E. Kofi Agorsah, Suzanne Blier, and Joseph C. Miller for comments on earlier versions of this paper and/or the dissertation project from which it was drawn. Alexis Adandé served as the local coordinator of my project and offered his considerable knowledge of the archaeology of southern Benin. Joseph Adandé, Obaré Bagodo, Souayibou Varissou, Bienvenue Olory, Didier N'dah, and Elisée Soumoni deserve special thanks for their kind encouragement and local logistical assistance. Hope Norman gracefully rendered the line drawings and ably and patiently assisted in all aspects of the field project. Early field efforts in 2003–2004 were supported by The Explorers Club Washington Group; the Graduate School of Arts and Science, University of Virginia (UVa); the Department of Anthropology, UVa; and the Center for Academic Excellence, UVa. The longer field season in 2005–2006 was funded by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant (#0432893), a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship (#P022A0500), and a special grant by the Embassy of the Netherlands to Cotonou. The paper was strengthened through the comments of two anonymous reviewers. All errors and omissions of fact are the sole responsibility of the author.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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