The Somba are one of the most interesting tribes in Benin, living in the North close to the Atakora mountains. They are one of the main reasons for visiting the North, to see their traditional lifestyle and amazing 3 storey Tatas (houses) They are related to the Taneka tribe who also live in the North of Togo.
The Somba have largely retained their traditional way of living, which is why it is so interesting to visit a Somba village. The meaning of Somba is "savage" which comes from the fact that they retained their traditional lifestyle until about 20 years ago. The correct name for the tribe of the area is the Bariba.
The men have their faces marked at age 3 and their bodies marked when they are a teenager. They are circumcised at around age 18! The facial markings traditionally matched the marking on the man’s Tata, so you knew which man owned which Tata.
The area is remote with only dirt roads, which has probably enabled the Somba to carry on their traditional lifestyle. The area can grow Mangos and other fruits, Cassava, Millet, vegetables and Shea nuts for making Shea butter. There is grazing for animals including many guinea fowl and chickens.
See separate tip on the Tatas
As in most of Benin, the traditional religion plays an important part in daily life. The Tata has an area on the ground floor where Fetishes are kept to keep evil spirits away or to help solve a problem.
When we visited we noticed many feathers on the floor in the fetish room. When a young person wants to travel away from the village, perhaps to work or visit relatives in another area, the fetish is consulted to see if it is safe to travel. A Guinea Fowl is sacrificed – if it is squeaks when it is killed it is safe to travel.
Houses in the Tata Sombas are made from traditional mud bricks. The bricks are made from mud, grass and water in a mould then dried in the sun. When a Somba man wants to get married he has to build his own Tata or house which can take up to a year, depending on how much help he gets! Traditionally if a son wanted to build his own Tata his father would shoot an arrow and the son would build his Tata where the arrow landed.