Fun things to do in Benin

  • The ever picturesque Beaches of Benin
    The ever picturesque Beaches of Benin
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  • A great place for picnics and fun
    A great place for picnics and fun
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Benin

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    Yearly Voodoo Culture and Arts Festival

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 20, 2008

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    Every year on January 10th a Voodoo Arts and Culture Festival is held in Benin to celebrate the traditional religion of the country. The main festival is in the sacred forest of Ouidah where thousands of people come from all over the world. The first festival was held here in 1992 when the forest was opened to the public for the very first time, and this is when all the statues were put here. At the same time smaller festivals are held in other towns throughout the country for people who cannot travel to the Ouidah festival.

    Sacred Forest of Oiudah
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    The Kings of Benin

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 20, 2008

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    The kings of Benin, were famous warriors and slave traders. They ruled over a very powerful kingdom which began with the original King from Tadu in present day Togo who settled in Allada, around the year 1600, and had 3 sons. Each son wanted a kingdom to rule so the oldest one stayed in Allada and the others travelled to Porto Nuovo and Abomey to establish kingdoms there.
    The kingdom of Dahomey (now Abomey) became the most powerful one after the 3rd king Houegbadja decided each king must expand the kingdom by warfare. They were very successful at this and terrified the other cities, towns and villages with their army of Amazon warriors, capturing people and selling them to the Europeans as slaves. The city of Abomey is a must-see if you are interested in the history of these Kings. You can visit the museum which is in the old Kings Palace and has excellent displays of their life and culture including the throne of King Glele which stands on 4 skulls - those of some of his enemies!
    Porto Nuovo also has an excellent museum depicting the history of its Kings.

    Applique showing the 12 Kings of Dahomey
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    A Voodoo Ceremony

    by janiebaxter Updated Apr 20, 2008

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    A Voodoo ceremony is very interesting, and I felt very lucky to be able to see the one I did.
    It was held in a rural village outside Abomey and was dedicated to the Warrior spirit Cokou. It was organised by a local guide who went ahead to the village to ask permission and allow the villagers to make the preparations. He also paid for the required ingredients to be bought – chickens, local gin, palm oil and cornflour. As I travelled with only a guide and the local area guide, it was easy to organise to see a genuine ceremony. It is probably much more difficult if you are travelling in a tour group.
    The followers of the traditional religion are happy to be able to have a ceremony, as they like to do this and it is important to them to keep the spirits happy. While we were attending our ceremony there was a family waiting to have a ceremony after us to solve a problem. The ceremony took about 2 hours in total and we were made to feel very welcome by the priest and the villagers participating. I was allowed to take photographs throughout, and when it was finished the participants came to shake hands.

    A Voodoo Ceremony
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    Scrap Metal Sculptures

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 20, 2008

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    In many museums and parks you will see sculptures made from scrap metal, with used car parts. They are very charming and lovely. Some of them are getting quite rusty as they were done quite a few years ago but this adds to their charm.
    You can see some good ones in the courtyard of the ethnographic museum at Porto Nuovo and in the sacred forest of Ouidah.

    Scrap Metal Sculptures
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    The Old Cars

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 20, 2008

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    Benin is the West African hub for used cars coming from Europe and you will see many old relics driving around the streets.
    They are not as old as the cars in Cuba, and are mostly old European models such as Peugeot.
    You may even get a taxi that is an old Peugeot - I had one to take me to the airport and thought we weren't going to get there! Of course we did.

    Old Car being made to work
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    What do the flags mean?

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 19, 2008

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    Travelling around Benin, you will pass many villages and houses with a flagpole and a white flag flying, or a black and red striped flag and may wonder what this means.
    When you see a white flag flying it is a sign that the village or the family of the house follow the traditional voodoo religion. The voodoo temples also have the white flag outside.
    The black and red flag indicates the temple is that of Zangbeto who is the night watchman and is one of the most powerful and popular of the spirits.

    Flag flying outside a Zangbeto temple
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    History of the Slave Trade

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 18, 2008

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    The slave trade is a big part of the history of this part of Africa. It lasted for around 300 years starting from the 16th century and during this time millions of Africans were transported from their homes to work in plantations in America, Brazil, Cuba and the Caribbean countries. The main port of departure was Ouidah and the museum and the town have excellent displays and monuments to show the history of the slave trade. The kings of Abomey raided towns and villages to get prisoners to sell to the Europeans as slaves in exchange for cannons, guns, tobacco and other goods. The king most responsible for this was King Agadja who ruled from 1718 to 1732 and established Ouidah as the main slave port on the West coast of Africa, with an army of Amazon female warriors to capture the slaves and an efficient administration system. The museums in Benin document the slave trade extremely well and there are many monuments, particularly in Ouidah. When some slaves later returned to Benin from the Americas they brought back with them some of the religious and cultural customs they had adapted and these were integrated into the traditional culture.

    Symbol on the Door of No Return, Ouidah
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    The Legba - Voodoo Messenger

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 18, 2008

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    The Legba can be seen at the entrance to the villages where the traditional voodoo religion is practised. He represents the messenger between the living and the spirit world and is carved from wood, and given food and drink by the villagers to keep him happy. Some are even protected from the sun by a wooden frame with a canopy.
    In return the Legba protects the village from evil and illness. Many of the Legbas are hundreds of years old and have lost their original shape but you can see replicas in the museums. The Legba is also a symbol of male fertility in the village and carries a representation of this!

    Legba in a Village
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    Excellent Museums of History and Culture

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 17, 2008

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    The museums I visited in Benin were excellent. The people are proud of their culture and history and it is very well documented with dates, photographs and many interesting exhibits in the museums of the main cities. All the museums I visited were located in historical buildings, either an old Palace (Porto Nuovo, Abomey) or slave Fort (Ouidah).
    Most museum exhibits do not have English explanations, they are in French, so it is a good idea and well worth it to get an English speaking guide to take you around. They are extremely knowledgeable about the history and the displays and are very friendly.
    The only disappointment is that you cannot take photographs inside any of the museums.
    The Museums I visited are:
    Porto Nouvo ethnographic and Guelede Masks Museum
    Abomey Kings Palace History Museum
    Ouidah Portugese Fort Slavery Museum
    Ouidah Sacred Forest Voodoo exhibition

    Outside the Museum in Porto Nuovo
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    NERICA - New Rice for Africa

    by janiebaxter Written Apr 13, 2008

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    The food shortage and harsh conditions of some of the African countries are well known. Many people are short of food, malnourished and unable to feed themelves, relying on aid.
    NERICA is a type of rice developed in the mid 1990’s designed to address the food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa and the growing demand for rice. It was created from a blend of Asian and African rice and designed to give high yield, shorter growing times, higher protein content and be very hardy and resistant to disease. It can grow in most conditions and is specifically aimed at the millions of small and subsistence farmers in Africa.
    Even better NERICA was developed in Africa, by this company in Cotonou. I saw NERICA growing in Porto Nuovo at the Songai centre and had some for lunch. Visiting some villages and towns I also saw children eating the rice. What a truly wonderful and worthwhile project!
    Check out the company website for more details.

    New Rice for Africa being harvested
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    Out on lake Nokoué to Ganvié

    by pfsmalo Written Apr 5, 2007

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    Although the quay for embarcation can become rather overcrowded with hawkers, punters plus the guides and boatmen, once you've paid and got away this is a brilliant trip. A couple of hours on the water among the fishermen and the to-ing and fro-ing of the locals is very relaxing. Plus some great photo opportunitys. The village is actually built on stilts in the middle of a lake, started as a haven from other marauding tribes. Now much depends on the tourists coming in, as apart from the fishing, obviously there is no agriculture.
    Price of the pirogue depends on how many you are, so worth trying to wait a while to see if others turn up. Up to 4 people around 5000 cfa each, 5 and up 4000.

    Out on the lake. Arriving at the church Young girl on the pirogue. Part of the village. Fishing in Ganvi��.

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    Ganvie Village - Benin (Village on Stilts)

    by ajayzener Written Jan 12, 2007

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    This is one of the best tourist attractions in Benin. It is close to the city of Cotonou and a very easy visit to make when you are in Cotonou. As soon as you reach this place you would be see the village in the middle of a lagoon.The history goes to say that the village was built to protect the tribe from the warring Fon tribesmen, who were forbidden to get into the waters.

    The entire life of the inhabitants circle around the lagoon, there are a few who make a living by the way of tourism, but apart from those all others depend on the waters for their livlihood. The stilt houses are not connected by land hence the entire travel within the village has to also be carried out in a boat. It is an enchanting trip, but the water is dirty and you need to be careful of the small boats that the natives use.

    Ganvie Village
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    Grand Popo dances

    by jorgejuansanchez Written Apr 24, 2006

    I had just crossed the border with Togo where I visited the incredible fetish market of Lome and the witches, when I stopped in Grand Popo village in my way to Gauvin and the so called Venice of Benin.

    As usual in Africa I observed the first rule to be welcome: I asked for Le Chef du village. He was an old man considered a Pope of the Animist religion. He even spoke German learnt when Benin, then called Dahomey, belonged to Germany.
    I paid my respects wishing long life for his relatives and himself. He was so pleased to meet a foreigner that he organized for me a dance where a conical straw roof of a hut “danced” alone as if by magic. I noticed that the trick consisted in a diminutive pygmy that in a moment of noise of drums was slyly introduced into the conic roof through a false door. Being very tactful I said nothing and applauded with great enthusiasm like everybody else. After the dances I was invited to sleep in a hut. Next day I thanked Le Grand Popo and left to Gauvin.

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    Helping/watching fishermen

    by malinaberg Written Oct 23, 2005

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    Along the coast the fishermen do what fishermen do all over the world - work hard. If youre lucky, you get to watch the beautifully muscular Benin fishermen work. If youre luckier, you can pitch in, giving them a helping hand pushing the boat down the beach.

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    Around town, Cotonou

    by malinaberg Written Oct 23, 2005

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    Just walking around in Cotonou is fun - for a while. Theres a lot of interesting little things to see, but, unless you have a high tech built in air filter, the staggering pollution will make the whole exerience less appealing. Also, it can be HOT, so frequent cold drink stops are a good idea.

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