Natitingou Travel Guide

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Natitingou Things to Do

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    Natitingou Museum

    by janiebaxter Written May 26, 2009

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    The Natitingou museum is located in an old French colonial house, built in 1915. As usual with museums in Benin, you get a much better experience if you hire a guide to explain the exhibits, although the guide we had didn’t speak English so Alex translated his explanations for me.
    The museum mainly details the Somba people’s lifestyle and the different types and styles of Tatas in the North of Benin which are –
    Tata Otammari, featuring drainage pipes.
    Tata Kouba, 3 storeys.
    Tata Ossori, 2 storeys.
    Tata Otchaou (Bukumbi) with decks and a centre hut for old people.
    Tata Tajaba, no longer built.
    Tata Berba, no longer built but had no door for extra security, and the family had to climb in on a ladder which was then pulled in.
    There is a section on musical instruments which include violins, castanets, tambour drums to announce a death and tamtam drums for festivities, horns and flutes.
    Jewellery is worn by men and women. The men wear arm bracelets and collars made from snakeskin, ivory and bone. Somba men were always armed with swords and knives and particularly bows and arrows.
    Circumcision is an important ritual and is done at age 18. The men wear a special cover to prevent infection and help the healing process and after the ceremony they are given a calabash and a whistle.
    Hats are also important to the Somba and each type of hat is used for a particular purpose. The chief priest wears a fox fur hat, a bride wears a cowrie shell hat with horns which is given to her by the groom to indicate she is to be treasured.
    The Somba are wrapped in a cloth for burial with their feet exposed. Men have the left hand exposed and women the right hand. The body is carried around the village until the spirit decides it is time for burial.
    There is also a room in the museum dedicated to slavery.

    Somba House
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    Shea Butter

    by janiebaxter Written May 16, 2009

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    The Tata Somba area is a good place to see Shea butter being made. Shea butter is an oily textured cream produced from a nut that grows on a tree, in many North and West African countries. It is used for cooking and household purposes instead of palm oil in countries where it is plentiful and can also be used in the production of chocolate. Its main use is in cosmetics because of it’s amazing moisturising and healing properties and it has been used to treat eczema, psoriasis, dry skin and sunburn. Many Western cosmetics now contain Shea butter.
    In the village we visited, Kouba, the women produce the Shea butter. First the nuts are heated in a large oven to soften them, then they are pounded to a cream and left to set to a buttery texture and turn yellowish white. A pan of Shea butter can be bought for $10 in the villages – I bought a portion for $2. It is extremely useful to bring your own re-sealable plastic bags. The ones they give at the airport to carry your cosmetics through in hand luggage are ideal.

    Pounding Shea Butter Shea Nuts Oven for Making Shea Butter Pounded Shea Nuts Finished Shea Butter, $10 worth
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    Tata Somba Houses

    by janiebaxter Written May 14, 2009

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    The Tata Somba houses have 3 storeys and are made from mud bricks.
    Originally they were built for defence against rival tribes and the slave traders but the Somba have continued their traditional way of building and when you visit one of their homes you can see why. They are extremely spacious and practical, enabling a large family to live very comfortably without getting in each other’s way.
    The father sleeps on the ground floor in a separate room, as the animals are brought in at night to prevent them wandering away or getting stolen. Also on the ground floor is the grinding stone for grinding cassava and millet and an area for fetishes.
    The next floor contains the kitchen which is separate from the living and sleeping areas.
    The top floor terrace is the highlight. Reached via a tree branch ladder the terrace contains the bedrooms of the mother and children and the grain stores all neatly arranged around the terrace with a view of the village and the fields beyond. The rooms have sliding reed doors for privacy and when the husband wants to visit his wife he has to knock 3 times on the door.
    The grain stores contain dried cassava, millet and any other foodstuffs that can be stored for months when fresh food is not so plentiful. The stores built high and are totally enclosed to prevent insects or small animals getting inside. They are reached by a tree ladder and have a conical top that lifts off for access to the inside. Inside all the produce is separated into sections divided by wood.
    There are many different variations on the Tata, depending on which village you visit – see the tip on the Natitingou museum for more types of Tatas. We visited Kouba village.

    Traditional Tata Tata Somba Grain Store The Wife's Room in the Tata Somba House The grinding stone and ground millet
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Natitingou Restaurants

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    La Brais de Nati: The Grill on the Hill

    by janiebaxter Written May 26, 2009

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    La Brais de Nati is set on a hill just outside the town centre, overlooking the town. You can choose to eat either inside in the traditionally styled hut or outside. We chose to eat outside with a view of the twinkling lights of Natitingou below us.
    The food is very good, and although it is a traditional grill featuring local meats there are also plenty of fresh tasty vegetables. I had Guinea Fowl with rice and green beans, carrots, onion and peppers and it was delicious but the portion was huge – far more than I could eat, although I tried my best!
    Our driver ordered millet beer which is a local speciality. I decided to play safe and not try it as it is made with local water. It is also very strong. I had my usual Beninoise beer.

    Guinea Fowl with Vegetables and Rice
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Natitingou Local Customs

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    Somba People

    by janiebaxter Updated May 26, 2009

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    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

    A Somba Man in the Doorway of his Tata Somba Facial Markings match the Tata
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    The Fetish

    by janiebaxter Written May 16, 2009

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    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.

    Remains of a Guinea Fowl
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    Mud Bricks

    by janiebaxter Written May 15, 2009

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    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.

    Making mud bricks to build a house
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Natitingou What to Pack

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    Plastic Bags for Shea Butter

    by janiebaxter Written May 16, 2009

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    Luggage and bags: Re-sealable plastic bags are useful if you visit the Tata Sombas and want to buy Shea butter from one of the villages. The women in the village don’t have any bags and the Shea butter is quite oily and messy, plus they only have large quantities of it. The bags that you get at the airport to take your cosmetics through security are ideal as you can put a portion of Shea butter in and it can be sealed for the rest of your trip.

    Plastic Bag for Shea Butter
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Comments (1)

  • Mar 3, 2013 at 5:34 AM

    Chez Guillaume is another excellent restaurant in Natitingou just off the Goudron on the right at the southern end of town. Located in a large, airy paillote with an outdoor garden eating area, specialites include oven-baked pizza (2,500 - 4,000 CFA), grilled wild meats (guinea fowl, antelope, rabbit, hare, pigeon) and delicious Moroccan-style lamb or vegetable tagines. The owner-chef, Guillaume, makes his own pastries and ice-cream as well. Live jazz concerts every Saturday night. Beer and wine at buvette prices.

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