The mysterious Zangbeto

1032 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2024

Product name

Zangbeto Dancing

Product country


Product city


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After two underwhelming experiences whilst sightseeing near the Benin city of Abomey, we hoped our guide’s surprise, a Zangbeto show, wouldn’t disappoint. We’d learned that Zangbeto are traditional voodoo guardians of the night who act as informal police, and we’d seen their costumes whilst visiting the capital Porto Novo. However, nothing prepared us for what was in store.

We arrived to see the ‘stage’ being prepared – chairs were set out for us, the dusty red floor was being damped down with water, a band of around 10 musicians tuned up, and young children in dusty khaki uniforms congregated on their way home from school and began dancing.

Eventually, we took our seats, surprised we were the only tourists, and the Zangbeto began to arrive. Basically, they resemble giant haystacks with long strands of materials in different colours: one was a traditional straw colour with red and white horns; a second, with a conical top, had cerise, green, and yellow strands, whilst two others were cerise and green, but one had a flat head and the other a conical top. The final one was totally different, with what appeared to be strands of black plastic bin liners.

The music played and the Zangbeto began gliding and whizzing about like crazy, with men dressed in colourful traditional outfits talking to them and directing them. It was all pretty amazing, especially when the Zangbetos, taunted by the children, chased them and they ran off screaming.

Despite the dust being damped down at the beginning, the fast movements created so much dust that it was irritating my already sore throat and getting in our eyes, so we moved to the opposite side of the circle, which gave us a good vantage point of the musicians.

We assumed that due to the size of the Zangbeto, there was a person inside, although it was difficult to imagine how someone could move at such speed and with such a smooth gliding motion. Towards the end of the show, one of the Zangbeto was opened up, and we saw the only thing inside was a small moving puppet. We were invited to take off our shoes to get closer and take photos. As we moved back to our seats, a live crocodile was produced from it and having put it on the floor, it ran into the audience before being picked up by the guardian. As a finale, a second Zangbeto was split in two and the two thin parts danced.

Despite the dust, the 90-minute show was incredible fun and what made it even better was that (a) we didn’t have to dance and (b) our guide sorted out the inevitable tips.

On the way back to our hotel, we asked our guide to explain more, and he told us that it was a mystery and that the Zangbeto are controlled by spirits. He said each show was different and he had once seen a live pigeon had come out of the Zangbeto which had been killed and cut in half and put in the pot, but when the pot was broken in half, the pigeon flew away.

Helen Jackson

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