Benin is one of many beautiful African countries located in West Africa. The nation is bordered by Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. It is home to plenty of wildlife, making it a suitable safari destination. While that may be the main attraction, several other interesting facts about Benin make it a destination worth discovering.
Common Facts About Benin
Officially the “Republic of Benin,” this is one of many French-speaking countries on the African continent. The West African nation has an approximate population of 13 million people.
Benin is known for its glorious historic past involving the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey. The country also features beautiful art, rich history, and intriguing culture. Here are some interesting Benin facts you probably didn’t know.
Several countries in Africa are prone to armed conflicts and civil/social unrest. Always double check the latest situations from both your government and the local government advisories.
Historical Facts About Benin
Benin Slave Coast
Here’s an important historical fact about Benin. The country served as a route for slave migration from Africa to Europe and the Americas.
It spans the south coastal region of the country, and the coast was infamous. Tradesmen at the time groomed relationships with European who came there to buy ivory, gold, and pepper. It created a platform for the slave trade.
Africans taken into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries had to go through the Benin coast. It was suggested that the slave trade in Benin lasted for over 100 years which accounts for the migration of over 1 1,000 slaves from Africa to Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean, Haiti, and the U.S.
French Rule In Benin
Due to the decline of the slave trade, the status of Dahomey as a regional power weakened.
In 1892, the French arrived the region and tried to gain control. In 1899 It was declared “French Dahomey.” They merged it with the large French West Africa region.
After over five decades, in 1958, the French granted the French Dahomey autonomy. In 1969, it gained full independence. The national day in Benin is 1st August.
Benin Was Formerly Dahomey
In 1975, the country officially became the Republic of Benin. Before that, the name was Dahomey. Here’s an interesting story about the name Dahomey.
Dahomey directly translates to the phrase “on the belly of the Dan.” Kings at the time prided themselves on defeating a rival.
To cement his strength and authority, the king at the time buried Dan. Dan was a rival king, and he was buried beneath the foundation of the present-day Benin palace.
The kingdom of Dahomey was wealthy and powerful. They had a well-structured economy built around slave labour. At some point in the 1840s, the kingdom’s power experienced a decline due to pressure to scrap the slave trade.
Benin “The Bight Of Benin”
Benin lies on a body of water, and it is named after it. After independence, the country took up the name Dahomey.
However, it wasn’t a true reflection of the country, as the Kingdom of Dahomey represented a small ethnic group inhabiting a small fraction of the whole country.
Fifteen years after independence, it changed from Dahomey to Benin. It was an unbiased decision, considering the country lies on a large body of water.
The Bight of Benin is a bay taking a crescent shape. It covers over 600km and stretches through the Nun outlet of River Niger in Nigeria ad Cape St. Paul in Ghana.
Useful Facts About Benin For Travelers
Dantokpa is a large open-air market in the country. Most African countries have several towns with open-air markets, and it is no exception in Benin.
The concept seems to be popular here as almost every town in Benin has an open-air market. As a matter of fact, Dantokpa is often considered the largest International open-air market in West Africa.
Situated in Nokoue Lake in the country’s economic hub Cotonou, the market attracts many customers from different countries.
Dantokpa offers more than just goods; it’s a place where culture and traditions interact. The balance of commerce, culture, and tradition is amazing.
Largest Population Of Lions
Pendjari national park in Benin houses the largest remaining population of lions in West Africa.
It is no secret that most West African countries have experienced a rapid decline in the population of lions in the region. Human activities like overgrazing and cultivation have contributed to the grassland being depleted.
The national park is one of the few sanctuaries for lions and elephants. In this park, you see different big cats, including cheetahs and leopards. Be sure to stop by on your visit to the country.
Venice Of Africa
One of the exciting facts about Benin is that they have their own version of Venice. Ganvie in Benin is a UNESCO world heritage site. It houses over 20,000 people and is seen as the largest lake village in Africa.
People often call it the Venice of Africa, making it a popular tourist attraction in Benin.
The town was built on stilts in Lake Nokoue over 500 years ago. Its original habitats were mainly runways that were trying to escape being sold into slavery.
Over the years, the area grew beyond the slave escape town and is now a thriving society. It has over 3,000 buildings which interestingly include a hospital, church, mosque, banks, schools, and post office.
Because of the unique location of Ganvie, the residents rely on boats for transportation and depend on fish farming.
Beaches In Benin
Did you know this fact about Benin? It has some of the most beautiful beaches in West Africa. Because of its proximity to water and a decent coastline of about 121km, Benin is known for its awesome beaches.
Fidjrosse beach in Cotonou is a white sand beach with crystal-like water. Grand Popo Beach, Grand Popo, has yellow sand and very attractive blue water. You can sunbathe on some of these beaches, or surf and enjoy some sporting activities by the coast.
Palaces Of Abomey
This is one of the many beautiful places in Benin and also a UNESCO world heritage site. Built in the 17th century, the Royal Palaces of Abomey was a colony of the kingdom of Dahomey.
It is an impressive set of 10 palaces housing the royals during the reign of the Dahomey Kingdom. A memory of the past glory well worth visiting.
Cultural Facts About Benin
Here’s one of the important cultural facts about Benin that you should definitely be aware of.
Much like many African countries, the use of the left hand while handling people is frowned upon. That is because people use the left hand for cleaning after their trip to the washroom.
Therefore, eating with your left hand is considered unhygienic in Benin. You also want to use your right hand while offering something to another person. Using your left hand can be considered disrespectful.
Kuli-Kuli The National Dish
Although other food items like yam, rice and vegetables are consumed in various parts of the country, the national dish in Benin is Kuli-Kuli.
Kuli-Kuli serves as a means of gaining nutrition, protein, and sustenance, especially for the poor who can afford rich meals.
Kuli-Kuli is made from groundnut smashed and shaped into different forms like balls, flutes, and biscuits. Then deep fried in groundnut oil.
Before frying, spices like pepper, salt, sugar, and milk could be added if available. It has a golden-brown colour. The finished product may only look attractive to some, but it tastes delicious to all. It is served hot or cold and can be eaten with custard or garri (Popularly known as cassava flakes).
Voodoo Originated In Benin
This is one of the more interesting facts about Benin. It is claimed that the practice of Voodoo started in the country.
The country has one of the world’s highest populations of Voodoo worshippers. They even have a day where thousands of Voodoo worshippers converge at Ouidah to celebrate National Voodoo day.
The Western understanding of Voodoo involves sticking pins into people, but that is a contrary opinion in Benin. Voodoo in Benin is more about making a positive impact on others.
Although it involves spiritual forces like fire, earth, and water. That said, another lesser known fact about Benin is that they still carry out animal sacrifices.
Snakes Are Worshipped In Benin
If you are afraid of snakes, you should avoid certain areas on your travels to the country. Crossing paths with snakes in Benin is considered a sign of good luck.
Here’s a peculiar fact about Benin; It probably is one of very few, if not the only country in the world, with a whole template dedicated to dozens of snakes.
In the palace, there’s a place called the template of snakes, where dozens of snakes knotted together can roam freely. Many come to this temple to worship the snakes as their spiritual conviction.
Languages In Benin
Considering their colonial masters were French, it is no surprise that it is the official language in the country. Although there are other languages like Yoruba, Biber, Fon, and Fula in Benin, French is the lingua franca. It is used in the media, public services, and the judiciary community.
Simple Benin Facts For Kids
The Benin flag is a tricolored flag featuring green, red, and yellow. Red represents courage, green hope, and revival, while yellow represents wealth.
The flag was adopted in 1959 and was raised officially on the country’s Independence Day the following year.
First In Africa
There are many interesting facts about Benin, and this is one of them. Due to its Affiliation with European and the Americas, it was the first African country to transition from a Dictatorship rule to a multi-political system.
Port Novo Not Cotonou
Here is a commonly mistaken fact about Benin. Many assume Cotonou is the country’s capital. Well, that is not correct; the capital of Benin is actually Port Novo.
However, Cotonou is the largest and most popular city in the country. It is the country’s economic and commercial hub. It also houses the country’s president and most of the government officials.
Richest Region In Africa
The Kingdom of Dahomey was once one of the richest regions in Africa. That might be hard to imagine, considering Benin is still a developing country.
Around 1750 because of how lucrative the Slave trade was, it earned approximately £250,000 a year. While that might not sound as much now, this was a relatively big amount in the 1700s.
Another less-known but proud fact about Benin is that the country has produced a Grammy-winning musician, Angelique Kidjo.
Angelique is from Ouidah, Benin. In 2016, she also received the amnesty international top human award in recognition of her activist work.
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Other Fun Facts About Benin
This beautiful mountain is one of the famous landmarks in Benin, and the highest point in the country. Mount Sokbaro is a hill part of the Atakora Mountain range. It is located in the western part of the country along its border with Togo. The imposing mountain has an elevation of 658 meters above sea level.
World Youngest Population
Here’s an interesting fact about Benin. The country is suggested to have the youngest population in the world. Hard to fathom, but the median age in the country is 17. Interestingly, a whopping 65% of the population is either 25 or under 25 years old.
But this young population is not illogical if you consider the country’s high fertility rate. In Benin, the fertility rate is estimated to be five children per woman. Also, it is one of the countries with low rates of contraceptive use.
Art In Benin
This is one of many cutural attractions in Benin. Beninese are famous for their wood craving featuring sophisticated artworks.
One of the cool facts about Benin culture is their love for art. The tradition of woodcrafting is well preserved by passing it along from one generation to the next for centuries.
Woodcarvings in Benin are famous in Europe and North America. They’re well recognized on the global market. Beyond that, the Beninese are also famous for their ivory-based and bronze sculptures.
If you ever travel to Benin, make sure to get your customized wooden mask. They are fast to make, and you can get them within a short time. It’s cheaper in Benin, while rather pricey on the international market.
Lowest Crime Rate In Africa
Due to corruption and poverty in some African countries and violence and civil war in others, the crime rate in Africa is significantly higher than in other continents.
Here is one amazing Benin fact. It has one of the lowest crime rates on the continent. No civil war, fewer corruption cases, and it is quite stable. Although the country has a low crime rate, there are rampant theft cases. Most homeowners hire night security guards to help prevent theft.
Feeding In Benin
Here’s a perhaps unfortunate fact about Benin food. Young Beninese prefer to eat something other than a traditional meal. They view the traditional dishes as monotonous. Most Beninese love packaged food. They love to eat imported food instead of the local diet.
However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that Benin cuisine is bland and tasteless. There are many traditional Benin food that packs a punch and contains centuries of tradition. Be sure to dive into the food scene if you get the chance.
The Kingdom Of Dahomey, Is Not The Kingdom Of Benin
Here is another often mistaken fact about the kingdom of Benin. It is often mistaken as the Kingdom of Dahomey, but they are two different empires.
The Kingdom of Benin is a kingdom in the southwest of Nigeria in the present-day Edo state. It is one of very few West African Empires still in existence and has no direct relation to Benin or the Kingdom of Dahomey.
Since Benin switched names from Dahomey; many often mistake it for the Kingdom of Benin due to the similarity in name.
Discovering More Fun Facts About Benin
From Mount Sokbaro to the Kingdom of Dahomey, Benin is a country with deep history and fascinating. While it might not come obvious as a travel destination, there is much to discover in this African country.
These are just some of the interesting facts about Benin that give a glimpse of what it has to offer. But this is definitely one country worth learning about and even visiting one day. You can experience all the cultural and incredible Benin facts firsthand and even come away with an amazing wooden mask as well!