Benin – 10 Things You didn’t Know

Interesting, amusing and quirky facts about Benin.

1. Winter Issue

People in Benin wear heavy winter coats in the summer. Yes! Really! In middle of July I landed in Cotonou airport just after 10 pm and temperature was about 26 degree on plus.

I was all happy in my t-shirt waiting for the taxi driver to put my luggage in the trunk when I noticed a man in the proper winter jacket. I felt like in the hidden camera! Something was not quiet right. For a Polish Girl accustomed to very tough winters it was just absurd!

So I went off to investigate this issue and talked with people in my hotel. A barman who I spoke with didn’t want to believe that Poland has extremely low temperatures, like thirty on MINUS. Accompanied by piles of snow.

‘No wonder I don’t know any African person that has ever visited your country’, he said. He added that in August temperature go as low as 22 degrees on plus and it is freaking cold and nobody goes out of the house if they do not have to!

What the heck? But I guess it is all relevant in our world! When you have 54 in the summer than I guess 22 seems terribly cold. Eventually I started playing by the rules and wearing my jacket everywhere.

Pendjari National Park, Benin

2. Voodoo Cradle

This West African country is the cradle of ‘voodoo’. The locals call it ‘Vodun’ which means ‘spirits’. Voodoo followers believe that Earth is ruled by five divine elements. And before you start imaging voodoo dolls and all the black magic stuff I would like to stop you here!

Their ceremonies have nothing to do with the distorted image that has been popularised in Europe and America over Hollywood and no Hollywood movies. Maybe except one aspect which many people would find scary and uncomfortable… they worships serpents.

Temple of Pythons, Oudiah

The religion was initiated back in the 13th century by its founder, ancestor of the kings of Allada. Voodoo came to Brazil and Caribbean with West African slaves ships.

Voodoo is an official religion of Benin and it is only official in one country in the world! Vodun believers coexist peacefully with Christians and Muslims, yet another country proving it is possible to live in peace one next to each other, no matter which God you believe!

Temple of pythons, Oudiah

3. Photography Issue

People in Benin believe that photography steals a piece of the soul. You may think it is an outdated superstition, but respecting their beliefs will take you a long way. Always ask for permission or take pictures from far away.

This unfounded fear has its origin in Animism and Voodoo. Personal belongings such as nail clippings, pieces of clothing, hair or blood could be used to cast a spell or a course. It isn’t a far stretch to believe that a photographic image has similar powers. So portraits or close up pictures are very difficult to shoot.

But I never say never. Many people, especially kids will not mind. Actually they will be so amazed with camera itself that they will think it is some kind of magic and you are super powerful human! :)

Kids, village, Pendjari National Park

Beach, Cotonou, Benin

4. Petrol station!

The most characteristic sights of Benin are the petrol stations. Ok, Marysia! We know that you are weird but surly this beautiful country has many other things to be highlighted!

I do agree with you but you know I love public transport and anything around it amuse me!

Those African-style little stands selling illegal petrol in any possible container are just great! Maybe not beautiful but genuine! And that is what I love about travelling, that I get to see real places not saturated and photoshopped images.

The price of original petrol is above the financial reach for majority of people in this country. So illegal petrol from Nigeria is being sold everywhere. Everyone buys it. Even public transport like buses and taxis. And there is very little ‘legal’ petrol stations here, maybe every 200km once you leave Cotonou. But I’m sure you understand a rule of market and demand so I will stop patronizing you my dear reader!

Petrol station, Benin

5. Expressing Amazement

The people of Benin have the most unique way of expressing amazement. A very specific sound! As soon as you hear it in the conversation, you will understand my astonishment. The voice timbres are different. The accentuation is always the same.

It is hard to explain it with words and I regret not taking any videos! But I’m sure once you there you will know what I’m talking about!

6. To be or not to be… French?

Did Benin claimed freedom from France many years ago? It did!

Is the national anthem, ‘L’Aube Nouvelle’ still sung in French? It is!

Is French an official language here? It is!

Is Bastille Day is celebrated more than in France itself? It seems so from what I have seen in Cotonou.

Maybe that is why I liked this country so much! You know I love everything French, except French Psycho Ex of mine of course.

Pendjari National Park, Benin

7. Cotton is gold!

Cotton is gold! It constitutes 80% of the country’s export, but I will leave those boring facts for some economist to talk about!

Cotton is widely used here in fashion industry, actually I think clothes here are made purely from cotton. The quality of fabrics is spectacular.

I was truly amazed by fashion here! So vibrant and colourful. Especially women fashion, it is magical what they can do with one piece of material. Souvenirs? Invest in the superb fabrics sold around the markets. I have bought some for my mum, she will love it!

Porto Novo, Benin

8. ‘Yovo’ = White man

In Benin you are a ‘yovo’. White person! But do not take it as an offense, this is how things are. You will hear it everywhere. You will be shouted at from far away to wave, to smile, to talk.

Some kids may be scared of you because they will see white person first time in their lives. Luckily majority will smile and welcome you in their country.

People in Benin are super friendly and always have smiles on their faces! And anyway you gonna be a bigger attraction to them than they to you.

Village, Pendjari National Park, Benin

That is a reality of Benin, there is no white people here. On my 3 weeks stay I have met other Europeans only few times and I have only one picture to prove it! It is a great group of volunteers from Belgium I have met in Porto Novo.

Porto Novo, Benin

9. To go or not to go? That is a question. 

Benin used to known as The Kingdom of Dahomey. French Dahomey. People’s Republic of Benin. And finally from 1991 the Republic of Benin. It is one of the first countries in Africa to have successfully transformed from a dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. Today it is one of the most stable countries in Africa.

That is why I can’t imagine why majority of Departments of Foreign Affairs advice against travelling in Benin. Even people in my hotel were telling me not to go anywhere because it is dangerous. When I said I will go with public transport to Porto Novo, the faceof the receptionist when almost white! They offered me a driver for free to avoid me going with public transport! Crazy! And not that I have listened, I love public transport!

Marina Hotel, Cotonou, Benin

For the time I have spend, places I have visited and distances I have travelled in this country, not even once I felt in danger. And I do travel as a single woman. I think that the stage of the roads and pollutions are much bigger risk to your health than actually interacting with locals! People in Benin were super amazing to me!

10. Slave Coast

Benin was part of the Slave Coast during the colonial era and surly is not proud of this period of its history. Allada and Porto Novo played the main roles in the slave trade, while Ouidah was the main port of sending slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean.

Their own kings are to blame for this tragedy and even though Benin forbade trading its own men and women in the 16th century, other tribes and nations were still traded for guns and goods.

Benin people are highly respective of the ‘slave history’ and maintain numerous museums and monuments for future populations.

Ouidah, Benin

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38 thoughts on “Benin – 10 Things You didn’t Know

  1. Brandon

    love the article and it helped a lot for a school project

  2. Wow I didn’t even know of this country before I read this post, now I really want to go there! :)

  3. gleb

    hello Mrysia
    i am planing to arrive to benin and i would like to ask you fro some infromation..
    1. will it be easy for me to get a driver and what is a fair price for 7 days trip? do you have a contact number?
    2. when have you been at the Safri that it was a rainy season?

    i have read your posts about Benin and it gives a lot of information
    there is almost no infromation about benin in the internet so your posts are very usfull
    tnx for the information once it was interesting.
    enjoy and keep on exploring!!!!

    • Hello Gleb.

      It will be super easy to get a driver for a reasonable price, are you staying first night in the hotel in Cotonou? Outside hotels there are usually drivers waiting to take people around, I’m sure you can agree on a good price, if not please understand that ever taxi driver is more than happy to take you around for a good price, you know it is not Europe where everything is so ell organized, you just talk to a first driver you met and if he can’t I’m sure he has a friend who is able to take you.

      I have been in Benin in July, rainy season is July and August there.

      Please let me know if there is anything else I can help you with?

      Kind regards
      Marysia
      Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair 139My Profile

    • Krisztina Kapuvari

      Dear Gleb,

      I am currently in Cotonou since last July. I am working here!
      If you need anyone to contact in any case, here is my Beninese number: +229 67 98 07 77
      On arrival buy an MTN sim card 500 cfa (bring your own unlocked phone possible smart and u will get internet on different packages for MB limit / monthly limit)

      If you need help in how to prepare yourself: krisztina.kapvuari@aiesec.net – please use this subject: Mytravelaffairs comment. More info here about Benin just ignore the company specific things: issuu.com/aiesecbenin/docs/aiesec_benin_welcome_booklet

      I am sure you going to enjoy this beautiful country! :)

      SEe you around!
      Kriszti
      Krisztina Kapuvari recently posted…Millennials – Problem SolvedMy Profile

      • Hey!

        I am Rodrigo, from Spain, and i am currently working on a project about Benin, I was wondering if you could answer some questions about the lifestyle you have, the traditions you have and some other things (I really dont know what i would ask you, nothing is planned yet) or maybe do an interview, Thank you so much for reading this email and i hope the answer is yes ;).

        See youu

        PS: I sent you this email but the link you gave doesnt exist, it would be great to have news from you

  4. Amber

    I am doing reschearce for my french class and we got this! If you have any information that us Middle schoolrs would find good to use in our notes and stories that would be fantastic! Thank you so much!!!

  5. Africa

    Hey !
    Awesome Post !
    Thanks For Sharing !

  6. Alex Amoussouvi

    Thank you so much for promoting positively my country. I am a tour guide and I hope through you others will want to discover this lovely nation.

  7. Marina

    One of the best exports from Benin is singer Angélique Kidjo. Her music is amazing and has always peaked my interest in Benin. Thank you for this blog, very enlightening.

  8. Ewaen

    Any one who sees your pics would think Benin is a Jungle, that is all I see here. The Country is a small country but beautiful, more developed than what you are showing here. I am not from Benin but I have lived their and I know Benin isn’t as bad as represented here.

    • Ewaen first of all I have many pictures from Benin in other posts about Benin and in my Pictures section. Another thing is that I must disagree with you on representing Benin to look bad! Where that comes from? I loved Benin. It was great country! People were amazing, Pendjari National Park great, Cotonou was fun, Porto Novo and Ouidah were places to learn about the country and Ganvie was just sth I have never seen before! Never in my dreams I meant to represent Benin to make people feel it is a jungle!
      Indeed I have been visiting in the rainy season which made everything much more green than usual even my safari experience but I would never say Benin a jungle. Not sure you have read rest of my articles about Benin but please do, you will have a chance to understand how great I found this country to be!
      Having said all that I must admit we all are different people with different perception! But I loved Benin and always tell everybody about this great country!
      Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #72My Profile

  9. If someone asked me to point out Benin on the map before I read this article I wouldn’t be able to do it. Thanks for waking up my interest in Benin!
    Marta Kulesza recently posted…10 NATURAL WONDERS OF BOLIVIAN ALTIPLANOMy Profile

  10. Tom

    That’s a great post, when did you visit Benin! Makes me want to go there!
    Tom recently posted…Essaouira – Moroccan Town with a Portuguese TouchMy Profile

    • Tome I have been in Benin back in 2012, just refreshing old posts! I have like 7 of them but it is a great country to visit! I only regret I didn’t have time to visit countries around Benin like Ghana and Togo, but as I like to say, what is postponed is not lost!
      Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #72My Profile

      • Tom

        That’s so cool! Keep adding old stuff, it can’t go to waste! :)

        • Thanks! I really have like about 15 countries I didn’t write about yet, it is quiet crazy!
          Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #72My Profile

  11. Sharon

    This is the first blog post I have come across from Benin, very interesting! I half planned a trip to Benin, Ghana and Togo many years ago. It is such a shame it is just so bloody far and expensive from Australia as I would really like to go there. Did you visit the surrounding countries?
    Sharon recently posted…Exploring Australia’s red centre in Alice SpringsMy Profile

  12. Megan

    I really need to turn my brain on this morning! I thought the title was about Berlin and then was super interested when I read they practice Voodoo! Thanks for all of these interesting facts on Benin!!

  13. Hello Adam, yes I’m Polish…you can read about that in About Me section :) As for Benin, people are rather poor there, I mean majority of them. What do you mean about prices, how much is bread or water. And how much they make? You know many of them still live rural life? Let me know exactly what do you want to know and what for are you needing this information?
    Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #66My Profile

  14. Jenna

    Definitely sounds like an intriguing place! I love that the most characteristic sights are at the petrol stations. I love the photo of the cotton truck!
    Jenna recently posted…Exploring North Carolina: AshevilleMy Profile

  15. Princess

    I am from Benin, everything you mentioned here is so true!

  16. Shaun

    Wow! I know 10 more things about Benin than I did before, bring my total to 10! VERY interesting article!

    How long were you there for?

  17. lorie

    This post is awesome and very insightful! I’m astonished by your first fact – I bike to work in minus temperature!

    • Hey Lorie. Indeed it puts a smile on my face, but I guess I would be the same if all my life I would live in Africa…surprised and shocked! Unfortunately I do not, so I know what proper winter means :)

      • NAVANEETH C K

        The stuff was really amazing. …

        You didn’t tell anything about their food,dance or music??

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