Aupiais, Père Francis (1877-1945)*

Père Francis Aupiais

Père Francis Aupiais was a Catholic missionary priest who spent most of his career in Dahomey (now Benin) and who had a particular interest in the local vodoun religion, believing it to be of high moral worth. Having been influenced by the colonial historian-ethnographers Maurice Delafosse and Georges Hardy early in his career, he also attended the classes of Marcel Mauss and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl during a visit to Paris in 1927.

It was then that Aupiais also met the philanthropist and ethnographic film patron, the banker Albert Kahn, who agreed to pay for a cameraman, Frédéric Gadmer to spend six months travelling around Dahomey with him, starting in December 1930, to record vodoun ceremonies, as well as other aspects of Dahomeyan life, including the activities of his own Christian mission.

However, the superiors of Aupiais’ missionary order, not only prohibited him from showing this material at the 1931 Exposition coloniale internationale in Paris, but even banned him from returning to Dahomey for many years. Meanwhile, the vodoun priests who had allowed their ceremonies to be filmed were excommunicated by their peers, ostensibly for having given away the secrets associated with those ceremonies.

This material, which is of between six and seven hours’ duration, and which is accompanied by 327 colour ‘autochrome’ stills, is viewable at the Musée Albert-Kahn.

Texts : Balard 1999, Amad 2013.