A Storytelling Journey: Revisiting Verger’s Dahomey

Darcy Greene, a journalism professor at Michigan State University, came across a copy of Pierre Verger’s 1954 publication, “Dieux D’Afrique” (Gods of Africa) while serving in Benin, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1969 to 1971.

Greene was interested in seeing how Verger’s photographs compared to photographs today. In 2012 she traveled back to Benin to revisit the sites that Verger had captured.

Here are some of the people Verger found and how Greene retells their story:

Left: Egun Ceremony (Ancestor in Masqurade) in Ouidah, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Green
Left: Egun Ceremony (Ancestor in Masqurade) in Ouidah, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Greene

Egun Ceremony: The purpose of this ceremony is to call the ancestors and ask for advice. It lasts for two days and Greene photo is from day two.

Left: Ernest Guèdegbè, Abomey, Benin, c.1948-1953 Right: Roch Guèdegbè, Abomey, Benin, 2012,
Left: Ernest Guèdegbè, Abomey, Benin, c.1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Roch Guèdegbè, Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Greene

Father and Son: Pictured on the left is Ernest Guèdegbè from 1948-1953. Greene revisited and discovered Guèdegbè’s son, Roch, holding a portrait of his father. Roch is holding an picture of his father wearing the same robe Verger captured in the earlier photo.

Left: Lisa Icon (creator god) in Abomey, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Green
Left: Lisa Icon (creator god) in Abomey, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Green

Lisa, The Creator God: This icon has remained in the same family since Verger and Green ventured to Benin. Pictured above is Lisa.

Left: Baobab Tree, Abomey, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Dah Aliku, carpenter, Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Green
Left: Baobab Tree, Abomey, Benin, c. 1948-1953, Pierre Verger. Right: Dah Aliku, carpenter, Abomey, Benin, 2012, Darcy Green

Tree and Carpenter: Two very different images tell the story of the same man. Pictured on the left is a tree Verger captured that was a sacred entity inhabited by the god of fertility. The man pictured in the photo on the left is a carpenter that had the tree cut down. He was very adamant to Greene that he did not was to see or discuss the tree again.

Green was able to capture similar moments to the ones Verger originally found. She continued to tell the story of the people of Benin, showing what has remained the same and what has changed in the lives and environments over time.