Benin, West Africa

Cotonou, Benin is next door to Togo, both on the Gulf of Guinea.  The difference, however, is like night and day.  Compared to Benin, which had clean streets and some organization, Togo was a disorganized mess.

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Greeted by dancers

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Street scene

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Typical traffic

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Road side sales

Our first stop was at the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah.  In 1717 there was a war between the kingdom of Dahomey and the kingdom of Ouidah.  Ouidah was defeated and King Kpasse ran into the forest to hide.  He was protected by pythons.  Ever since, royal pythons have been worshipped.

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In the Temple of Pythons, members of the gaurdian family care for the snakes.  They are identified by their facial scars, which are created at birth.  The pythons are not dangerous, as they are well fed.  At night, the doors of the temple are opened, the snakes visit local homes and are fed, then return to the temple of their own accord.

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Next, we visited a local school.  The kids were thrilled to see us and thronged to have their pictures taken, oohing and aahing when shown their image on screen.

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Following the school visit it was a short walk to the sacred forest.  It’s the burial locati0n of King Kpasse.  The statues represent various figures in Ouidah history including fertility, warriors, and a spy — notice the statue with two faces.

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The current king was in the park and gave us a blessing, but no photos were allowed.  Bats flew out of the trees overhead.

 

 

 

 

 

We proceeded to a national museum located in a restored fort from colonial days.  At one time there were five forts including Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese, but only the latter survives.  The forts were the center of the slave trade and the museum contains photos and artifacts from those days, along with other African artifacts.

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The next stop was the “Door of No Return”, a monument commemorating the last spot in Africa the slaves would see.  Interestingly, nearby was the “Door of Return”, a monument with an opening in the shape of the nation of Benin, constructed to welcome the descendants of slaves who manage to return.  On the way, we made a brief stop in the plaza where the slave auctions were held.  Today, it looks just like any other small plaza in the city, crowded with vendors and cars, I didn’t bother to photograph it.

The salves were taken to the respective forts of the buyers, then marched in shackles and chains to the port, now marked by the Door of No Return.  Along the way, a giant pit, no longer available for viewing because it’s too emotional, was used to dump elderly, weak and sick slaves.

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The Door of No Return

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The Door of Return

Our final adventure was to the village of Ganvie, a village of 20,000 to 30,000 people built on stilts several miles away from land on Lake Nokoué.  This town was begun in the 16th or 17th century by Tofinu people avoiding Fon warriors capturing slaves for market.  The religion of the Fon prohibited any assault on water-bound people.

Today, the community is thriving.  Almost all their needs are provided within the community — stores, a hotel, schools, hospital, entertainment, etc.  Everyone gets around by small boats.  There are some tiny pockets of land used for grazing and a bit of farming.  The economy is primarily fishing; the men catch the fish and sell them to their wives, who then take the fish to market to be sold for profit.

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A water taxi

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Our tour boat

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The “main street”

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Fresh water

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Dinner!

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After what may be one of the best excursions we’ve taken, we returned to the ship.

Next – Sao Tome and Angola.

Don Horner

About Don Horner

Okeechobee, Florida
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One Response to Benin, West Africa

  1. Brenda says:

    Thanks for the summary of the miscellaneous stops. I only went to the Village of Ganvie, which I found interesting. Some of the children have never stepped on land. Great pictures of it all, Don.

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