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Benin Travel Guide
Many moons ago, about 700 years to be exact, Benin was a nation of wealth and strength with much of its commercial success coming as a result of the arrival of Europeans and the slave trade, the biggest in West Africa and one which lasted until 1885. After this time the country remained under French control until its independence in 1960, which brought two decades of corrupt Marxist-led rule, bringing the country’s economy into disaster, and ultimately led to the ejection of the Marxist regime in 1991. Sadly though, in 1995, the Marxists regained power but three years later they were ejected once and for all.
Today, the country has an area of over 110 square meters with a population of nearly 7 million, speaking Fon, Youruba and French. The people of Benin are Fon, Adja, Bariba, Fulani, Yoruba and Betamaribé, with religions ranging from Animism, alternatively known as Voodoo, to Muslim and Christian.
When it comes to culture in Benin, art that has brought a lot of attention to the country. In the past the most skilful artists have worked for ruling kings at the palace of Abomey, with many tapestries found around Benin, which tell the tale. The palace also features bas-reliefs, which have been selected by UNESCO as objects of common heritage for humanity. There is also a huge mix of cultural and religious dances throughout Benin, with most being very complex and expressive. The dancing is done at festivals for example the La Gani, which is a festival celebrating culture and identity. The culture that outsiders find the most fascinating is that of voodoo, which is a religion undertaken by around 70% of the population, in which the human and spirit worlds combine as one and is a worship of the spirit in all things. The stranger more unnatural side of Benin culture is the extensive practice of female circumcision, something which occurs particularly in the north of the country, with studies finding that around half of the female population have undertaken the ritual.
The busiest and most entertaining area of Benin, is in Cotonou the country’s capital, where bars and nightclubs, playing modern and traditional sounds, attract a variety of tourists. The restaurants in the city provide a vast assortment of cuisine and when it comes to shopping, the Grand Marché de Dantokpa is the main attraction, where visitors can purchase anything from food to cassettes to radios. Cotonou is north of Ganvié, a town built in the 18th century, where around 19,000 residents live in bamboo huts on Lake Nokoué! There are some houses, shops, restaurants and a hotel here as well though, all of which have been built 6ft above the water.
The roads here are under developed, with poor water and health conditions but the good news is that Benin is free from violence and economically they are growing from strength to strength, with major trading partners being Brazil, France and Portugal in industries such as cotton, cigarettes, textiles, petroleum and construction supplies.
Anyone coming to Benin from France, Belgium and many African countries will be able to get a direct flight into the country, otherwise visitors can get flights to Lomé in Togo and from there take a taxi to Cotonou, which takes around three hours. Visitors will find the weather in Benin ranges from tropically hot and dry in the south to very hot but less humid in the north, with the most moderate time to go being from December to March.
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