Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in Natitingou, a town in northern Benin, during the 2000s. Northern Benin is much more arid than the southern coastal region.

Benin is a West African country located between Togo and Nigeria and Burkina Faso to the north. The area of modern Benin was the location of an important West African kingdom that rose in prominance at about the same time the Europeans arrived (15th century). The coastal areas became known as the Slave Coast in the sence that other areas became known as the Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast. The area was an important source of slaves in the Atlantic slave trade. The French seized control, calling the colony Dahomey and putting an end to the slave trade (1872). France granted independendence (1960). At imdependence the country became Benin. A sereies of military governments replaced the civilian government. Mathieu Kerekou established a Marxist regime (1972). Marxism proved an abject failure as economic conditions declined. A move to democracy began (1989). Former Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo won a free election (1991). We have a Benin history page. Agriculture is a mainstay of the economy. Cotton is an important crop. The primary ethnic groups are: Fon (40 percent), Adja (15 percent), Yoruba (12 percent), Bariba (10 percent), and several smaller groups. The primary religion is Christian (40 percent Muslim (25 percent), and Vodoun (20 percent). Voodoo was banned by the French. The annual Voodoo Day is now a popular holiday celebration. .French is the official lsnguage. Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken in the south. Several tribal languages are spoken in the north. Thousands of Togolese sought refuge from the civil war there and have yet to return home


Benin is a West African country on the Gulf of Guina located between Togo and Nigeria and Burkina Faso to the north.


The area of modern Benin was part of an important African civilization--the Ypruba Kingdom (14th century). Benin is the former French colomy of Dahomey. It has no coherence in African terms. Europeans beginning with the Portuguese arrived along the coast (mid-15th century). Much of the value of Benin to the Europeans was based on the slave trade. The Portuguese did not move to colonize the interior. European contact was limited to coastal trading posts. The Portuguese establish trading posts all along the West African coast. Porto-Novo was their trading post on what is now Benin. English, Dutch, Spanish, and French traders followed, primarily to participate in the slave trade. The French established posts at Ouidah and Savé (mid-17th century). The English and Portuguese built forts nearby (early-18th century). There is no gegraphic sence to the borders or African historical experience. It resulted from the Anglo-French colonial rivalry as part of the scarable for Africa (late-19th-century). Europeans drew boundaries with no geographic or ethnic coherence. Northern Benin is culturally similar to the countries it borders rather than the tribal groups of the south. Southern Benin was a more coherent cultural entity because several native kingdoms developed there among the Fon and Adja people. They were related to the Ewe of southern Togo and southeastern Ghana. The kingdoms were of Allada, Abomey (or Dahomey), and Adjatché (later Porto-Novo). Two brothers of the king of Allada created their own kingdoms, north and southeast of Allada. Abomey conquered Allada (1724). They seized the port of Ouidah (1727). This enabled them to dominate the local slave trade, an enormous source of wealth. Abomey was noted for recruiting women soldiers for regular service. The French seized control and moved to end the slave trade (1885). While the French did end slavery, they did little to prepare Benin for independence. Benin achieved independence (1960). As with many African countries, Benin adopted, statist, Marxist solutions to rapidly modernize society. The primary result of statist solutions was corruption on a phemomenasl scale and ecomomic disaster. The Communist regime was finally ousted (1991). The Comminists regained power (1995, but were agaun outsted (1998).


The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful state with a had a competent army. The econmy was based on slaves and later palm oil. Agriculture is a mainstay of Benin's economy. Cotton is an important crop. President Kerekou's adopted Marxist policies that did enormous damage to the economy. The country has since achieved some economic growth. It is now one of Africa's largest cotton producers, but it ranks among the world's poorest countries. The economy is heavily dependent on trade with its much larger and oil rich neigbor to the east--Nigeria.


Benin at the turn-of-the 20th century was the French colony of Dahmoney. The French had, however, only begun the colonization process. For years the French and other Europeans mostly maintained trding posts along the coast of West Africa and did not venture to any degree into the interior. Only with the Scramble for Africa did the Europeans begin the formal colonization process and extend the colonial government north into the interior. This was reflected in the culture and life style of the people. There was a great benefit fom ending the slave trade, but esentially culture and life style had been little chanhed by the early colonization process. Photographic images taken at the time show the people living and dressing as they had for centuries, except for example bright colored European textiles worn by the women were more common than before. With this exception we see people living a life style little changed for centuries. Men and boys did bot yet wear Western clothes, except the elite may have a few Western garments. Gradually we begin to see changes, but major changes did not come until after World War II when the colony and the rest of West Africa began to move toward independence.


The primary tribal ethnic groups are: Fon (40 percent), Adja (15 percent), Yoruba (12 percent), Bariba (10 percent), and several smaller groups. Nigeria has a much larger Yoruba population. Thousands of Togolese sought refuge from the civil war there (2005) and have yet to return home,


We do not have much information about boys' activities in Benin. We have some limited information on schools. Education in Benin is primarily based on the French system. As in all of Africa, the primary sport is football (soccer). We also notice a small Scouting movenent.


The religious picture in Benin is complivated. The most widely practiced religion in Benin is Christinity. Nearly half of the country describes themselves as Christian. Roman Cathlic is the most important denomination, about 25 percent bof the population are Catholic and 15 percent are Protestant. Islam is the next most important religion with over 25 percent of the population. African traditional religion is also important, consitututng something like 20 percent of the population. The most organized such group is Codun/Voodoo. Captive Africans, esoecially individuals of the Youruba people, transported to Haiti founded the Voodoo religion in Haiti and places in the United States (especially New Orleans and Miami). Voodoo was banned by the French, but is now a recognized religion. The annual Voodoo Day is now a popular holiday celebration. There are adherents of the various religions scattered throughout Benin, but there is a regional pattern. The principal relgions follow the basic pattern of West African society. Islam arrived from North Africa and is most prevalent in the north and northeast--the Sahel area. Christianity arrived during the 19th century colonial period anbd is most prevalent along the coast and in the southern area generally where the Europpean colonial presence was most pronounced. Christians are most dominant in Cotonou, the economic capital of the country. Adherents of the traditional Yoruba religious group meaning basically Voodoo today are in the south. Other African traditional religion beliefs are prevalent in the north. This is in part because Christianinty is most prevent in the south and Voodoo is a syncretic religion, a mix of Christinity and African traditional beliefs. The religious affiliations of the population should not be seen as a hardened devotion as is commonly the case in the West. We notice members of the same family, even individuals, practicing Christianity, Islam, African Traditional Religion, or a varies mixture of the different religions.


French is the official language. This of course because of French colonization. This has cintinued since independence, primarily because it is a compromise language for the various tribal groups. Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken in the south. Several tribal languages are spoken in the north.


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Created: 6:33 AM 12/4/2010
Last updated: 4:22 AM 9/20/2018