The Beninese Culture of West Africa.4 min read

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It will be worthwhile to take a close look at a few cultural traits that characterize the Beninese people. In my previous post I made mention that Benin was formally called Dahomey. Dahomey was the name given by France and was known as the biggest and powerful territory along the West African slave coast.
In terms of culture, Benin as a nation does not possesses cultural homogeneity partly due to its position geographically and other historical factors which include series of migration pattern, power tussle by different kingdoms in the pre-colonial era, and the colonial impact. In addition to the ethnic crisis and colonial maneuvering, major divisions along the religion and occupational lines also contributed significantly. I rightly mentioned that French is the nation’s official language even though most of the high schools teach English. Majority of the Beninese people in addition to the national language speak two out of the fifty five languages found in the country. Most of the ethnic groups in the republic of Benin are indigenous. Due to incessant migration in the past, the Aja people also known as the Gbe settled in the southern region of Benin where they established many kingdoms. The settlement of the Yorubas in the central and Southern part of Benin dated several years back. The western region is inhabited by the Bariba who had migrated from Nigeria.

An estimate of 20 sociocultural groups is officially recognized in Benin. The Fon people who are believed to be the founders of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey form the largest ethnic group.


Lifestyles and Food

Even in the cities, foods are cooked outside in the open. Women cook meals for the family even though majority of the young men have begun to learn how to cook too. People however; prefer to go to the local market to buy food items as often as needed as the means of the preservation of cooked food is almost impossible due to the lack of refrigeration. The most stable food found in Benin consists of the starch meal eaten with soup made of vegetables, fish or meat. Rice, corn and cassava are major sources of starch in the southern region while yam, millet and sorghum are fancied in the central part and northern regions respectively. The soup maybe made up of pepper, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, lettuce, peanuts, okra and many other vegetables.

Benin Market Women (Genevieve Magazine)
There are many tropical fruits eaten in Benin. These fruits range from guava to cashew. Palm wine is a popular local drink tapped from the palm tree and consumed by people in southern Benin while the fermented beer made from millet is brewed and consumed in the north. Fresh or smoked fish is a common delicacy in southern part of Benin since this region is closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Beef from cow and goat meat are eaten in the northern region.

Festivals, Ceremonies, Celebrations & Holidays
Festivals in Benin involve lot of merriment and eating be it a national holiday, funerals or weddings. The Muslim festival of Tobaski entails killing of sheep and eating of the mutton, while the Christians celebration of Christmas entails killing of typically of chickens or any animal of choice.

Family and Marriage
Majority of the marriages just like most typical African procedures is arranged by the family even though individual choices are been respected in recent times especially among educated people. Couples may perform the civil, traditional and white wedding as they so wish. The man is allowed to remarry in the event of divorce or death. Marriages in Benin involve paying the bride price to the family of the bride. The patrilineal system is upheld in most Benin culture. The children bore by the woman belongs to the man. The extended and polygamous families are much larger and often include close relatives.

Do you know?
That in Benin, ancestors are believed to be part of the community even after death? Ancestors are honored in the shrines and offerings and prayers are offered to apeace them. For example, in the Fon culture, when a person dies, a metallic walking staff known as the “asen” is sculptured for the deceased and kept in a special place within the deceased compound. 

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