Facts About Culture, Geography, and History of Benin
There is a lot to learn from this small country that still retains much of its authentic culture and tradition. The 12 interesting facts in this article will help you uncover this magnificent land and probably get inspired to visit it to learn more.
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12. While being very poor, Benin is also one of the most politically stable countries in West Africa.
Poverty in Benin is extreme. Most of the population is agrarian and lacks the basic requirements of modernity such as quality education, affordable quality healthcare, and modern economic means of livelihood.
As such, a low standard of living characterized by malnutrition, preventable mortality rates, domestic servitude, and primitive beliefs still hold sway. However, compared to most other West African nations, Benin has enjoyed relative peace and stability.
11. Though Benin has a long history of slavery, slaves in the region were treated very well.
Established along the infamous ‘slave coast’, slavery remains endemic having been practiced for centuries. It is common for parents to sell their young ones to domestic servitude. Though the role played by poverty and made worse by high fertility rates cannot be ignored, this is more of a cultural problem etched into a defective mindset that finds it easy to sell children to domestic slavery for monetary gains rather than bearing the responsibility of taking care of them. Even though child slaves are not treated to the barbaric levels experienced under the Europeans and Arab masters during the Trans-Atlantic slavery, it is dehumanizing as children are robbed of their humanity, rights, and prospects for a better future.
10. The country is famous the world over for carved wood masks.
Benin woodcarvers are well known. Their work is extremely authentic. It is a tradition handed over from one generation to another spanning several centuries. Benin woodcarvings are sold on the global market, more so in Europe and North America and fetch good prices. Apart from woodcarvings, Benin is also known for its great sculpture work based on ivory, bronze, iron, and other metals.
You can order for your own custom-made wooden mask souvenir while on a trip to Benin. This is highly affordable as opposed to buying it on the international market.
9. There is at least one open-air market in every town of the country.
The open-air market is a common feature in African towns and centers. Benin is no exception. However, open-air markets in Benin have a rich variety of items and services including the woodcarvings, sculptures, ornaments, traditional instruments, garments, voodoo fetishes and traditional entertainment.
The Dantokpa Market abbreviated simply as ‘Topka”, is West Africa’s largest international open-air market. It is located on the banks of Nokoué Lake in Cotonou and attracts customers from neighboring countries. It is not just a market for goods and services but also of traditions and cultures. It is a unique blend of commerce, tradition, and culture in one place.
8. Benin is home to Fulani herders who move their livestock over long distances in search of grass.
Fulani is the world’s largest and most widespread nomadic pastoralist community. The Fulani people are estimated to be about 25 million in total. However, they are found in an expansive land larger than entire Western Europe - spanning from Western Sudan to the Atlantic Ocean. They are found in 17 countries of West and Central Africa.
Fulani people are predominantly Muslim and although some have become agrarian, a significant proportion of them remain nomadic pastoralists.
7. The red color on its flag symbolizes courage, yellow stands for wealth, and green symbolizes hope and revival.
Benin gained independence on 1st August 1960 from France and became the Republic of Benin. It was previously known as Dahomey, a name of the 15th Century kingdom that occupied the territory. Its current flag was adopted on 16 November 1959 and raised on Independence Day. It was abandoned in 1975 by the Marxist regime, which took power through a military coup and re-introduced in 1990 upon Benin becoming a multiparty democracy.
6. Benin has a high fertility rate with approximately 5 children per woman.
Benin’s fertility rate is among the highest in the world. This has resulted in its swelling population that has outstripped its economic growth rate and made sure that the country remains pinned down to the grounds of poverty. Over 60% of its population is below the age of 35 with 50% being below 15 years of age.
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5. The W-Arly-Pendjari in Benin harbors the largest remaining population of lions in West Africa.
Active human activity has meant that lions have become extinct in most parts of West Africa as the grasslands become depleted by overgrazing and cultivation. Pendjari National Park has remained one of the few sanctuaries for not only lions but also elephants, which became victims of the infamous ivory trade.
Pendjari National Park is a place where you can easily get to see most of the big cats (lions, Cheetahs, Leopards) and big herbivores (mainly elephants) on your tour of West Africa.
4. The capital of Benin—Porto Novo—was developed as a port for the slave trade.
Formerly known as Ajase, the capital of the Yoruba’s State of Popo, Porto Novo is an inlet in the Gulf of Guinea infamous for its role as a slave port. It gained its current name from the Portuguese who were the established slave merchants. It currently has a population of about 250,000 people.
Porto Novo has various museums where you can visit and learn about African ancestry, historical dynasties, the slave trade, and the post-slavery return of the Afro-Brazilians.
3. Benin was the first country in the 1990s to make the transition from a dictatorship to a multiparty democracy.
Benin experienced a few non-violent coups in its post-independence history, with Marxist dictatorial rule lasting between 1975 and 1990. The first multiparty elections marked a peaceful transition from military rule to civilian rule with the military incumbent (Mathieu Kerekou) conceding defeat.
2. Benin is named after the body of water on which it lies – the ‘Bight of Benin’.
Benin, even after independence, continued to use Dahomey as its official name. It is only 15 years later that the name officially switched from Dahomey to Benin. This is because the Kingdom of Dahomey was ethnic and represented just a small section of Benin landmass and society. Thus, the name Benin was adopted as an unbiased representation of the entire country.
Bight of Benin is a crescent-shaped bay that stretches 640 kilometers covering the area between the Nun outlet of the Niger River (Nigeria) and Cape St. Paul (Ghana). It has plenty of scenic pristine beaches that serves as a great tourist attraction.
1. AIDS is a major concern in the country and it is straining the health care system.
Aids scourge has inflicted a heavy burden on the already strained and poorly equipped public hospitals. The fact that women are the most vulnerable yet 80% of them are illiterate has made it difficult to control the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, compared to many African countries with similar cultural and religious set up, Benin has a relatively lower rate of HIV/AIDS infection.
Benin is a country of great historical heritage, a bastion of democracy and a great promise to a brighter future. There is more to learn from Benin than we could afford to condense into this small piece of article. The best way to experience and learn Benin is to pay it homage.Related: 12 Interesting Facts About Ghana