The place to Explore Benin and its Culture
The Republic of Benin , independent since 1960 ( former French colony of Dahomey since 1899 ), is located in the tropics between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer. It is part of the West African sub-region. Covering an area of 43,484 square miles, Benin extends from the Atlantic ocean to the Niger River over a length of about 435 miles. The country is located in the Gulf of Guinea between Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Niger in the northeast and northwest of Burkina -Faso. Its width varies from 78 miles along the coast to about 202 niles km (latitude Tanguiéta , a town in the northern part of the country) . Generally its national territory can be described as a small country.
Porto- Novo has the function of political capital and Cotonou as the economic capital. Benin is now divided into 12 departments and subdivided in 77 communes. On a smaller scale , Benin also belongs to two major West African regional organizations ( ECOWAS and WAEMU ) and the CFA Franc zone ( WAEMU – West Africa – and CEMAC – Central Africa).
Benin’s landscape is little rough and varies by region. The only region with average altitudes lies north-west of the country: mountain chains of the region of Atakora as well as other mounchain chains ( including the area of Sagbarao) are where the country’s highest points are located (658 m). Four main forms characterize Benin: the coastal plain (125 km from east to west for 4 km on average from south to north), plains (sandy plains in lower parts of Benin and rocky plains of Kandi), the crystalinne peneplain (variable altitudes between 200 and 400 m) on which one can observe a series of isolated hills, and finally the chain Atakora located in the north-west of the country.
Benin’s climate is hot and humid. Monsoon resulting from intertropical convergence leads to rainfall. In the Northeast, there is a season called Harmattan, and it usually applies during the long dry season. In the southern part of the country the climate is sub-equatorial or as some would call it “Beninese”. Dry seasons occur from November to March and mid-July to mid-September, the rainy season from April to mid-July and mid-September to October. In the north, the climate is subtropical or called “Sudanese” as it resemble the climate in Sudan. The dry season runs from November to May, the rainy season from June to September. You can also add the Atakorien climate: temperatures are lower with more frequent thunderstorms. This region is among the wettest of Benin (In Natitingou, it rains practically from April to October).
The population of Benin is varied and is reflective of the multiple migrations and it long history. For example, in the southern part of the country, the population of the region of Porto- Novo comes from repetitive waves of migration from neighboring populations of the area of Adja from the west ( Allada ) and Yoruba from the East. Today, on a global manner, twenty socio -cultural groups make up the population of Benin:
Southwest: Adja , Ouatchi , Gen, Houeda , Hula
South : Fon Aizo , Tori , Toffin ,
Southeast: Gun and Yoruba ,
Centre : Yoruba , Fon , Mahi ,
North and Northeast: Batombu , Dendi , Fulbe ,
Northwest : Betamaribé , Waaba , Yowa .
This socio- cultural diversity takes into consideration that through acculturation, some ethnic groups have become well integrated into new culture and in some cases has contributed in the creation a whole new ethnic group. Overall, Beninese ethnicity can be identified in social context by lifestyle practices that lie between tradition and modernity.
Historically Benin drew its economic strength through exchange activities and trading; it started with the first infamous trade ebony wood that gave lead way to the sale the palm oil. It was then followed by the wealth made by some intellectual elites assigned to different positions during the colonial administration following the affiliation of the country to the territories of AOF and AEF ( West Africa Equatorial Africa and French ). From the establishment of palm oil trade mainly provided by the trading houses of French origin, developed national export activities to Togo and Nigeria. The basis of parallel trading circuits is well established and provides a direct link to the development of trade transfer.
Yoruba ethnic group were specialized in those activities. Many Yoruba settled in Porto- Novo during the wake of the palm oil trade with Lagos. The traded goods became diversified and Yoruba traders were in charge of trading new forms of goods such as African cloth trades, colored canvases, cola nuts and pearls. The cocoa trade , which took place during the political conflict shaking Nigeria between 1966 and 1970 that led to the Biafran war, helped with the emancipation of 2 ethnic groups: The Yoruba and Gun.
Today, the border transit between Benin and Nigeria, trades all kinds of goods. The most important to note are the trades of fuel and manufactured goods from Nigeria and the Central Port of Cotonou in the delivery of Western goods including cars destined for the West African sub-region. Cities like Porto- Novo and Cotonou are quickly directed to storage operations (Goods are stored until buyers comes to pick them up and take them in other neighbor countries), sales (like the market of Dantokpa in Cotonou , the largest in West Africa ) , and export of tropical materials such as cotton, coffee and cocoa.