All my friends wanted 'something from Africa'. If you've got several gifts to pick up, this is the place I would recommend. There is a huge selection of quality items. This place is designed for tourists so you will spend more than in some other places but it is still cheap by western measures. You can probably get better prices with a French or Fon speaker to negotiate.
Open until about 7:30pm
What to buy: I am especially pleased with a pair of wooden chairs that I bought. They are two planks that fit together like an X when you look at it from the side. The planks come apart so the chairs can be packed into a large suitcase. You can request the craftsman to carve a special design into the seat back.
What to pay: Varies by item. Generally a little more than half of the original price.
The women in Benin generally work very hard, as well as looking after many children. They often have small businesses such as selling fruit or vegetables, running small cafes or restaurants or making Shea butter. It is common to see women working hard while the man sit around chatting. I’m not saying all the men are lazy, but the women certainly seem to work harder.
Where possible try to buy from the women, particulerly in the villages, as the money will go directly to benefit the family and the women are generally better at managing the money and saving a little.
If you visit the Tata Sombas the women make Shea butter there which you can purchase for a few dollars and this gives them a small income.
There are some lovely traditional crafts in Benin and the quality of the traditional souvenirs is high in most places, particularly the carved wooden masks inlaid with brass. In the Fetish market you can buy the voodoo dolls that have pins stuck into them - if you want to!
There are also some nice baskets, pottery and hand woven fabrics which are for sale in the markets, along the roadside in some of the towns and in the museum shops.
An excellent book to buy in Benin is “Regard sur Ouidah – a bit of History” by Martine De Souza. Martine is an expert on the history and culture of Benin and her book explains the history of the slave trade, the Dahomey Kings, the importance of twins and has examples of proverbs. It is very simply but well written and makes it much easier to understand what you are seeing both in the museums and around you in the towns. It has excellent illustrations and costs only 2000 CFA so is well worth getting as early in the trip as you can. I got mine from the Kings Palace museum shop in Porto Nuovo but it is widely available in most of the museum shops.
Many of the shops in Benin have wonderful illustrations, either as well as or instead of the usual handwritten sign to show what they are selling. A lot of them are very large and cover most of the shop wall. The loveliest are the Coiffure and the Couture signs for the ladies hairdressers and clothes shops. Look out for them as you pass through the towns and villages, they are well painted, colourful and very charming.
The sign for the coiffure is everywhere in Benin, and going to the hairdresser must be extremely popular as everybody has extremely well coiffured hair! It’s not just for ladies - there are many for men too.
Even the tiniest village will have a ladies coiffure shop with a lovely painted sign outside. The popular style for long hair is many tiny plaits and this can take a full day to do and costs around $20.
Dantokpa Markets are the biggest in Cotonou
What to buy: Snails are quite common here with the local people. I had some in a resturant with pepper, tomato and onions. I also ate some at home. Very yummy after you get past the thought of it being snails. They are supposed to be very good for you. Apparently when a woman has given birth and is feeling weak, she is given snails to give her strength back. It taste is unique and the texture is smooth. Its a bloodless meat.
What to buy:
The best things to buy in Benin is probably handicrafts. There are many both small and big shops all over the country selling it. Alot of it is quite interesting and have good quality.
The shops offer a wide variety of woodcarvings, bronze sculptures, batiks, leathergoods and various benin clothes.
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