The Culture Of Benin

By Vic Lang'at Junior on May 31 2018 in Society

Traditional masks on sale at a festival in Benin.
Traditional masks on sale at a festival in Benin.

Despite the tumultuous political past of Benin coupled with the low economic growth because of the strife, the culture has not yet been affected at all. It is also acclaimed internationally for the quality of music and the rich culture that is still practiced in the midst of the globalization currently changing the world. Currently, Benin is a multiparty democracy, and it has experienced stability since 1991 when Marxism was done away with in favor of democracy. The presence of different ethnic groups in the country means that there is diversity, hence a mix of cultures, which are different and unique in their respect.

History Of Benin

To understand this diversity, the History of Benin is put on focus. The country was once a great African Kingdom and it was concentrated in city-states along the Atlantic Ocean. It was here that the infamous slave trade was concentrated as slave ships docked here to collect their cargo (slaves) before heading to various destinations, including America. There was a transition from the Oyo Empire to the Kingdom of Dahomey that was brought about by a War of conquest. Initially, the empire consisted of the ethnic groups Yoruba, Aja and Gbe. Under the Kingdom of Dahomey, the Fon ethnic group was the main dominant group. Customs like military training of young boys was done to everybody till they were ready for service in the Dahomean army.

The rulers often sold off prisoners of war to slave traders. In annual ceremonies, the captives would be killed in front of the public. But in later years, the Kingdom’s power began to wane due to the international ban on the slave trade. Such conditions allowed the French to take over in 1892 and impose colonial rule that lasted up until 1958. After independence in 1960, the political situation took a turn for the worse as ethnicity played a role in the political squabbles that followed. Numerous coups by the military made the situation worse. A Marxist government came to power in 1975 and foreign investment dried up as businesses were nationalized and Benin began the descent into autocracy. The end of the cold war brought a wind of democratization in Africa too, and Benin renounced Marxism and adopted democracy. Though the economic situation is yet to improve, it will take some time to undo the damage that political instability had done to the economy.

Beninese Music

Music is one of the reasons that has made Benin famous around the world stage. Musicians like Angelique Kidjo get international acclaim due to the use of the traditional drum beats and their authentic compositions that enthrall audiences in international and local festivals. Native music has undergone notable evolutions due to interactions between locals and foreigners. The sounds of Benin music is a combination of the native, French carabat, rock and roll and even rhumba. Names of the citizens are strictly traditional despite the current statistics which shows that Christianity and Islam being the religions with a massive following. In addition, despite being colonized by the French, it did not change the culture of naming their children using traditional names. The reason here is because of the Akan influence, which requires parents to name their children basing on the date and week in which they were born.

Beninese Food

Food also plays a role in defining the culture of Benin. Traditional cuisine is prepared using sauces of a different variety. Yams are the preferred main ingredient while corn is used to make a dough. Peanut and tomato are either used in making the sauces that accompany the main course. Other foods that the people of Benin consume are fish and chicken since fishing is practiced along the communities living at the coast and in riversides. Agriculture is the main economic activity in Benin, hence communities also rear chicken, goats, cows, and pigs. Through this, they also get beef and pork. Bushmeat is also consumed in Benin especially among the communities that live in the North. The most common cuisine is called Aracaje.

Voodoo Religion In Benin

Voodoo is also practiced in Benin where shrines are found in almost every part of the country. In Contonou, the voodoo shrines are open for display where tourists are offered a show of how the whole ceremony is conducted. It is possible during festivals in which there is a high guaranteed number of tourists coming to Benin. A voodoo museum is also found at the capital city where Voodoo artifacts are put on display for tourists to see. The practice is widely regarded as normal, and it is recognized as an official religion. It has a national holiday called Voodoo day. The whole religion is based on the belief that there is a spiritual world called Mahou.

Here, there are about 100 divinities (also called voodoos) who represent different kinds of phenomena, like Sakpata which represents illness, healing, and earth. Voodoo priests ask these gods to intervene on behalf of the believers. The local people offer sacrifices to the voodoo gods through the priests. Gifts such as Chicken or sheep are slaughtered to the gods, or the priests can pour alcohol to the ground as another form of sacrifice. Despite the negative portrayal of voodoo in the international press as well as in the movies, the local people refute the claims that voodoo is all about sorcery and evil. It is claimed that the voodoo gods protect the good people by poisoning enemies hell-bent on destruction, as well as providing for the believers.

Other Cultural Festivals In Benin

Benin also plays hosts to several festivals of significant cultural value. The Gelede and Wada festivals are held annually in celebrations of mothers as well as the visual artists. The two festivals take place between March and June. In the Gelede festival, well-choreographed dances are shown together with an array of traditional attires worn by the participants. Men also wear covers to entertain the women who are the subject of the festival (Gelede). Other festivals are the Quintessence Film festival where Beninese films are shown alongside international films.

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