Have you ever heard about Benin? Well … no (I know you said that with Cricket Rockwell’s voice …) A francophone country neighboring Togo and Nigeria, Benin has many geographical, historical and cultural attractions.
1.Its History and Heritage
Benin, the so-called kingdom of Dahomey, experienced the establishment of Portuguese and Dutch trading posts, colonization by the French, and wars before gaining independence in 1960. Its history is marked by a sad reality: Benin has also been a place of slavery. For the duty of memory, the Slave Route in Ouidah brings to life the last moments of the 2 million men, women and children who were torn from their country and sold as slaves to Europeans by the kings of Dahomey. From the slave market to the Gate of No Return, the visitor travels 7 stages and 4 kilometers to go back in time and pay homage.
2. Its Voodoo Culture
Voodoo was born from the meeting of the traditional cults of the Yoruba deities of Nigeria and deities Fon and Ewe, at the moment when the kingdom of Abomey tried to put Oyo and Abeokouta under regency (between the 17th and 18th centuries).
Voodoo is often misunderstood, sometimes considered as witchcraft. In fact, it is a religious practice that consists of the worship of a creator God (called Mahu) below which other lower gods are found (eg Ogoun: god of iron, Mami Wata: goddess of water , etc.) that serve as a relay for man to reach God.
In Benin, the only nation where voodoo has been recognized as an official religion, Vodoun Day is celebrated on January 10th. Moreover, in Ouidah, one can visit a voodoo sanctuary called the Temple of Pythons … I let you guess the animal in residence …
3. Its Lakeside Villages, Highly Unusual
The lakeside village Ganvié is a bit like the Venice of Benin. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this picturesque place, consisting of dwellings on stilts entirely built of wood and natural materials, can be visited by pirogue only.
In addition to Ganvié, four other Beninese sites are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the underground village of Agoingointo, the Royal Palace of Porto-Novo, the Slave Route in Ouidah and the W. Reserve, all sites of interest to visit!
4. Lush Nature and Protected Species
The olive ridley turtle, the hippopotamus, the sitatunga (kind of aquatic antelope), the African manatee … here are some of the species that you can meet in Benin!
Located between Benin and Togo, the Mono Delta Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, covering a total area of 142,500 ha, is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the environment. This area concentrates a set of unique habitats for the region where rivers, lakes, swamps, savannahs, gallery forests, mangroves and beaches coexist. And did you know? In Benin, the environment is a constitutional right: “Everyone has the right to a healthy, satisfying and sustainable environment and has the duty to defend it. The state takes care of the protection of the environment. It means that all this beautiful diversity is there to stay !!
5. Its Beautiful Beach That Runs Along the South
Southern Benin gives direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. The largest cities are grouped together, including Porto-Novo, the capital. The ocean also means beach of sand, sunsets and fresh fish … Relaxation is also part of the trip!
6. Its Avant-Gardism in Ecotourism in West Africa
2 words: Eco-Benin. The organization works for the promotion of ecotourism and local development projects throughout Benin, for a “responsible, fair and supportive human development”.
Eco-Benin uses ecotourism as an economic pillar of local community development; it’s the sister of Village Monde in a way! These two organizations are also partners in the project Development of a Connected Network of Community Ecotourism in the Mangrove Zones of Southern Benin, which ends in July 2019. When you organize your trip, do not forget to take a look at the Eco-Benin site, which lists eco-villages, lots of advice for a responsible trip and above all, which lists ongoing conservation projects.
Click here: www.ecobenin.org
7. Its typical dishes
Yams are at the heart of food in northern Benin, they even have a party dedicated to them in August! Boiled, fried or crushed, the yam accompanies meat dishes. In the south, it is a maize paste (as well as variants based on cassava, yam, etc.) which is consumed; spicy sauce made of tomato, onion, meat (mutton / cabri, beef), fish, etc. Beninese cuisine is known to be tasty and delicious!
Do you have a sweet tooth? Try the fried plantain (aloko) or the tapioca porridge. Do not forget to make a cure for exotic fruits: pineapple, guavas, mangos, oranges, bananas, mandarins, papayas … yum!
Side hydration, do not miss the baobab juice, superfood rich in vitamin C and antioxidant, or sodabi, artisanal palm wine.
And finally, we can add to that:
8. The Kindness and Happiness of Beninese People
9. The Ease of Obtaining a Visa
To get to Benin, nothing more simple, you can apply for an electronic visa, it’s instant and really cheap!
10. Its Social and Political Stability
Benin is a country without major conflict, and a symbol of democracy.
I believe you are convinced … :) Do not miss the opportunity to come!
Photo credit: Charles Mony