The Republic of Benin, commonly known as Benin, is a small country on the coast of West Africa. Though today it’s rich in culture and traditions, there is not much known about the history of this country before it was colonized. Curious about this mysterious African nation? Read on for 10 interesting facts about Benin that may surprise you.
1. Benin is the birthplace of voodoo
You may have heard the term “voodoo doll” but did you know that voodoo is a religion? Known as Vodun in Benin, voodoo is an African religion that focuses on spirits and divinities from nature. In places like Benin and Haiti, the Vodun religion is often practiced alongside Roman Catholicism because of some similarities in their beliefs. About 1.6 million Beninese people believe in Vodun, making it one of the most common religions in the country after Roman Catholicism and Islam.
2. It was formerly known as Dahomey
The Republic of Benin was once known as the Kingdom of Dahomey, or simply Dahomey. The country was known by this name from the 1600s until 1904. In 1904, the king of Dahomey was overthrown by the French empire and the country was colonized by France. The country went through a few small name changes and, in 1975, was officially called Benin. The name Benin comes from the Bight of Benin, a shallow curve on the coastline of the country.
3. In early times, Benin had an elite force of female soldiers
Before being colonized, Benin was a strong nation with a large military force. The Dahomey Amazons were well-respected female warriors. They went by two names: Ahosi which means the “king’s wives” and Mino which means “our mothers.” These female soldiers went through extremely rigorous training, some starting as young as 8 years old. Like other members of the military at the time, the Ahosi could gain wealth, power, and status from their occupation.
4. Benin’s national dish is ground peanuts fried in peanut oil
Because meat is expensive in Benin, the citizens often have to turn to other sources of nutrition. Kuli Kuli, the national dish of Benin, is a resourceful snack that provides a good amount of protein and nutrients at an affordable price. To make Kuli Kuli, peanuts are crushed and formed into the preferred shape then deep-fried in peanut oil. Salt, pepper, and spices can also be added to the peanuts before cooking. Other peanut-rich delicacies from Benin include spicy peanut sauce and Beninese peanut soup.
5. It has two rainy seasons and two dry seasons per year
In most tropical countries, there are only two seasons: one wet season and one dry season. The dry season is similar to summer. Temperatures are higher, there is much less rain, and daytime is often sunnier. During the wet season, it rains more often, the weather is cooler most of the time, and the sky is often overcast. In Benin, they go through the two seasons twice in a year. The wet season is from April to July and September to November while the dry season is from July to September and December to April.
6. Many Beninese citizens are named based on their birthday
Particularly in the southernmost part of the country, the residents of Benin follow a naming strategy utilized by the Akan people. Akan names are given based on what day of the week the child was born. For example, someone born on a Wednesday would have a name that directly translates to “Wednesday.” Understandably, this means that many Beninese people have similar names.
7. Poverty and malnutrition are some of the main issues of the country
Though Benin is working hard to improve its economy and urban development, the country’s rate of poverty has been steadily increasing in the last few years. In 2009, the poverty rate in Benin was 35.2%. The most recent statistics show that the percentage has now increased to 40.1. Furthermore, around 45% of Beninese children under five years old suffer from some form of malnutrition. Many households in the country do not have direct access to affordable sources of nutritious food.
8. Music is an important part of the country’s culture
Benin has a lively and vibrant music scene that produces many of Africa’s best musical talents. Thanks to the country’s history, the Beninese people have been able to experiment with their native folk music, French cabaret, funk, and even American rock. In the 1970s, the Beninese government heavily encouraged indigenous folk music, leading to many interesting pop adaptations of the country’s traditional music styles. Beninese musicians nowadays perform songs from a variety of genres like reggae, hip hop, and jazz – usually infused with the country’s signature style.
9. The Pendjari National Park has the largest elephant population in West Africa
The famous Pendjari National Park is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Hippos, antelopes, and baboons are some of the many mammals that can be found in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park has more than 3,800 elephants, the most in West Africa. It also contains a population of West African lions, a critically endangered species.
10. Benin has a memorial called The Door of No Return
In the city of Ouidah, visitors can walk a path dedicated to the country’s tragic history of slave trade. The 4-kilometer track is now filled with monuments to this dark time in Benin’s past. The Door of No Return is a memorial arch located in the House of Slaves museum at the end of this historical trail. It marks the last destination for many Africans before being exported for the slave trade.
Benin is a vibrant African nation with a rich history filled with warriors, music, and voodoo. Unfortunately, the country also has a tragic past and an unstable economy. Many beautiful countries like Benin are still recovering from the aftermath of slavery and colonization. Their struggle serves as a reminder of the importance of helping others and treating all humans equally.
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