Benin - Art, Culture and Tourism

Art

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Dealing with Art, Walter Gropius wrote in the Bauhaus Program: «There is no fundamental difference between an artist and a craftsman. Artist is but a rise of the craftsman . Through Heavens' grace, in rare  moments of light and beyond his will, art flourishes unconsciously from the work of his hand, while the basic knowledge to this work is critical to any artist. It is the source of creative production. " Walter Gropius. " The Bauhaus Program"

As we define Art as the lively expression of a people, no need travel or staying long in any part of Benin to enjoy local craftsworks and the cultural value of folk music and dance.  In spite of the overwhelming progress in technologies and modernization these traditional ways and cultural expressions keep propspering in Benin.

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Their value is emphasized by, among others, craftsmen working in the field of wood carving (Abomey Kings' thrones, gates of ancient palaces , mysterious and sacred masks of Guèlèdè...)

Fabrics are a large part of this traditional expression. In southern Benin, you can find woven fabrics; however the woven items in the north are of higher quality thank to the top grade thread from Burkina Faso weavers use there.

Beside woodcarving and fabrics weaving, leather work, jewelry, pottery and basketry enjoy a prominent ranking in the artistic expression of the Beninese people.

Culture

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The colorful cultural diversity in the Benin people is one of the most appealing features of the country. Benin population consists of over twenty fundamental sociocultural segments, each with its history, language and customs. The common value among all these various groups however is their sense of friendship  and hospitality. The open-mindedness and remarkable warmth with which Beninese welcome strangers and engage them in conversation allow visitors to discover the country's culture to a very personal level.

In the south, the major sociocultural groups are the Fon and the Yoruba. Fon language is the predominant local language in most of the region, although there are many other dialects. Gun, Tori, Ayizo and Seto, by example, are closely related to Fon. The Adja people are another group closely linked to the Fon. They are concentrated in the southwest, near the city of Abomey. Historically, the Fon were one of the most powerful civilizations in West Africa. They founded the kingdom of Danhomè, which dominated much of the history of what is known today as Benin before French colonization.

As for the Yoruba they are concentrated in the southeast and central parts of Benin. Sharing strong links with the famous Yoruba peoples from Nigeria, they constitute 12% of the population of Benin.

In the North, most important cultural groups are the Bariba, the Dendi and the Bètamaribè or "Somba". Bariba are from the northern part of Nigeria and are mainly concentrated in north-eastern Benin, all around the city of Nikki. The largest and most significant Bariba event is the annual Ganni festival celebrated in Nikki.
Dendi are mainly gathered in the northwest side of Benin, between Parakou and Natitingou. They are believed to have migrated from the ancient Mali Empire and eventually moved into Benin.

The Fulani (or Pulah) are present throughout northern Benin as a whole. They are most seen during the dry season as they move their livestock in search of water.

The last group in the North is the group of Bètamaribè or "Somba" which are concentrated in the Atacora Mountains in north-west of Benin. This group is particularly known for its unique architectural style, the "tata somba" looking like small castles.

Spiritual values and religious practice are granted great importance in Benin; whether traditional or modern, religious beliefs are an important part of everyday life. Benin is known to be the cradle of voodoo and over 80% of Benin's population follows this religion that some also call traditional Animism.

In addition to Animism, modern religions such as Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelist) and Islam have a growing presence in Benin.

 

Tourism

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Most visitors to Benin begin their journey with the southern part which includes 3 large provinces along the coast:  the "Mono" which shares borders with Togo, the "Littoral" located in the central side and the "Ouémé" bordered in the east by Nigeria.

The “Littoral” province is made up of Cotonou, the largest city in Benin (over one million and half inhabitants) and also the site of the main airport in the country. In Cotonou, tourists enjoy shopping in large commercial centers, having fun in the various cultural centers, trying the wide range of dishes, and involving in other show opportunities.  In the neighboring province of « Atlantique », a one-day trip from Cotonou is possible; you can visit the lake city of Ganvié with its traditional thatch-roofed houses built on stilts. You can have a trip to Ouidah, as wel, the former slavery station and also the heartland of Voodoo in Benin. The Mono region includes, among others attractions, one of the most wonderful beaches in Benin. The province of Ouémé hosts Porto-Novo, the Benin capital city.

The “Zou-Collines” region makes up the central part of the country. The most renowned city in the area is Abomey, site of the former Fon Kingdom of Danhomè, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Benin. Beyond the Zou-Collines region, you are welcome to the northern Benin consistent of 4 major provinces, namely Atacora and Donga in the north-west part bordering Togo and Burkina-Faso, and Borgou and Alibori located in the north-east side sharing borders with Niger and Nigeria.

Atacora is the den for numerous natural appeals such as Pendjari National Park, Atacora mountains range and Tanongou waterfalls; it also comprises welcoming cities like Djougou and Natitingou.  The “Alibori” region partly shares the Park “W” with Niger and Burkina-Faso. Among other noteworthy locations in Borgou and Alibori you can visit the cities of Parakou and Nikki.

These Benin regions are worth visiting mainly for their nice peoples.  

The « Somba » live essentially in Atacora are famous for their unique housing architecture, best known as the « Tatas Somba ». They keep living according to their traditional life style you hardly can find elsewhere in Benin.  Trying a trip to this region is highly rewarding.

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The Borgou region is dominated by the Bariba ethnicity. Formerly migrant populations, the Bariba built a strong kingdom with Nikki as main city. Each year the bariba traditional culture is value through the GAnni celebration which is an opportunity for tourists to meet with the King of Nikki, the supreme moral dignitary in the Bariba community.

As for the Fulani, they are most present in the Borgou region. They are mainly itinerant stockbreeders travelling throughout West Africa. Fulani women are rather special with their colorful clothing and jewels.


Sources

Other information sources about tourism in Benin