The word Kaleta refers to a tradition, invented in Benin by freed Afro-Brazilians, come back to Ouidah, after the Malê revolt in Brazil Benin during the nineteenth century. The Kaleta tradition is a unique mix of European and Brazilian carnival and American Halloween, also comprising Abomey’s (the capital of Danhomè kingdom) Zinli dance steps among other Beninese traditional dances, as well as elements of the Zangbeto mask tradition. This mix genuinely embodies the Beninese specific talent for syncretism. This tradition, born from the slave trade’s wounds, is far from being any sort of lamentation, and on the contrary is a tribute to resilience. Not only to human resilience, but also to cultural resilience, since this tradition is exclusively passed on by children. It represents childhood’s unique capacity to transmute horror into joy through play and transformation.
Kaleta is performed exclusively by young boys gathered in temporary and spontaneous bands during the New Year period. They go from house to house, dancing and playing makeshift instruments in exchange for small tips. The musicians never wear masks, and their instruments, all percussive, are made out of reused material (cans, bottles, pieces of metal, etc.). The dancers are always masked and never talk. They communicate only through gestures and only respond individually and collectively to the name of Kaleta.