I did not visit all of Benin as it was ill advised to travel North. But I was fortunate to have a driver/guide for a few days allowing me to learn much about the history, the culture and daily life.
Benin, formerly known as the Dahomey Kingdom, was depicted in The Woman King, a movie based on the African female warriors during the 17th-19th centuries. They were a warring society whose economy was based on conquest, slave labor and trade with Europe. Their art was highly regarded and has been in the news today regarding repatriation. But most of all they are and were notable for their practice of Voodoo. They gained their independence in 1960 from France.
In another blog I will share my understanding of Vodun (Voodoo is the Hollywood version).
I was captivated by their art: the carvings, the design of their fabrics, the paintings, and the sculptures.
Today’s economy is based on both agriculture and mining. They grow enough food to be self sufficient with fruit, yams and rice. One of the biggest crops is cotton. But I was surprised to hear that they export it and then buy all their beautiful materials from Thailand; however, the designs are created in Benin. The tailors in Benin are both men and women and the colors truly amazing. You will often see couples dressed the same as they scoot by on their motorcycles. A Sunday in Benin is eye candy for sure!
Unfortunately they are still listed as one the least developed countries of the World and their literacy rate is insufficient and the mortality rate for both mothers and infants is too high. I was most upset with the number of people on motorcycles without helmets. Most of the population can not afford cars or more than one helmet for their bike. I saw way too many families traveling together, often with the youngest wrapped to the mother’s back with a scarf and no helmet.
Benin is in the process of growing tourism in Cotonou where the waterfront close to the airport has miles of empty beaches and no big hotels yet! They are also developing the controversial Marina Project designed to enlighten people about the transatlantic slave trade with a hotel spa, a replica of a slave ship, memorial gardens, craft market and an arena for Vodun performances.
Today most organized tour operators offer a 3 country visit including Ghana and Togo in addition to Benin.