The place to Explore Benin and its Culture
Imagine taking your current lifestyle living on lands and moving on water to conduct your day-to-day lifestyle. This is what Ganvié is all about; a town on a stilt lake.
Ganvié is located on the lower Southern part of Benin and is built on the Lake Nokoué. The name “Ganvié” comes from the Fon language and it means literally “We’ve survived”. It has about 20,000 habitants in approximately 3,000 homes that all built on a stilt water. Ganvié came into existence during the Portuguese invasion looking for slaves.
Those living in a town which is now called Cotonou fled and took refuge far away from land and built the now called Ganvié. In the Fon religious beliefs, it was forbidden for any raiders to approach anyone living near water (or perhaps couldn’t swim), therefore making it a perfect escape and refuge for this group of Beninese people to create a safe community on water.
The community is self sustainable, survives on fishing (eating and selling) and various other means such as tourism, restaurants and souvenir shops. They go on land to purchase goods that can be cultivated on water and then resell it during market days.
Although there is a hotel on the lake, most visitors tend to come for a one day excursion or rather stay at hotels nearby and on land right next to the boarding boats. It is not because the hotels on the water aren’t accommodating. Rather, it is because many don’t find it pleasurable to adapt living on the lake. The amenities offered aren’t for everyone
Visiting Ganvié is an experience out of the ordinary. Up to this day, this is the largest community known to live on water. Everything is conducted on the lake. Upon arrival, you will rent a boat that will take you around the lake and show you how life is lived in this community. There are lots of boats hand carved from wood trunks.
Anyone, from young children, women and groups of individuals are moving around with grace in their boats. It’s remarkable to see how they all get along in an environment that might seem to most uncomfortable; everything is on the water (supermarket included) but the schools which are right off the land. A few residents keep plots for their domesticated animals. A cemetery is also being built on land as well.
The homes are built with different characters. Some homes have a terrace to enjoy the serene, shallow water; others were courageous and creative enough to take on a challenge by adding sands to build a beach on a lake. One can only imagine how many boat trips have been made to finalize such a project.
It is very peaceful, magical, mystical and enjoyable to experience that will take your breath away. During your visit, a thought that will keep crossing your mind, is wondering how are they able to live on water and be so content. This is a testimonial that as humans, we can adapt into any environment if necessary.
Those living in Ganvié are content with their lifestyle and are not showing interest to abandon their lifestyles to move on solid ground. There is a sense of proudness that’s exuberated as you see them navigate the water. It will only leave you wondering what other unseen wonders are left in the world that are undiscovered.