Most people were traditional, colorful clothes. In the larger cities, younger women wear western style clothes, but they are in the minority. The skirts and dresses are almost all ankle length. Because they always wear long skirts, women tend do bend down at the waist when they pick up something. I somehow always had an odd feeling about that, it just didn't seem right. I finally realized why when I saw a teenager in a mini skirt in Saint Louis in Sénégal. I am a cross-dresser, and a while ago I started wearing mini skirts myself. I very quickly learned the lesson how to pick something up from the floor while wearing a mini skirt. You do not bend down from the waist, as I saw the women in West Africa do, when you wear a mini skirt, unless you want do flash the people behind you. I had learned that embarrassing lesson so well, that it made me uncomfortable even to see other women bend down like that. However, women in West Africa almost exclusively wear ankle length dresses, so they can afford to bend down from the waist. All babies are carried on the backs of their mothers, strollers don't exist in West Africa.
About 40% of the people are Christian, 25% are Muslim. However, most people regardless of religion practice Voodoo. Benin is the birthplace of the Voodoo religion. I visited a Voodoo dance in a local village. These Voodoo dances are not staged for tourists. While driving by a small local village on a boat, we saw a Voodoo spirit ready for their local voodoo dance. This village was far away from any tourists. The Voodoo spirits are pyramid shaped wooden structures covered completely with colored straw/strings. The spirits supposedly move by themselves, without any person in them. At one point they actually tipped one of them over to show that there was nobody in there. But there was so much straw on the structure, it was easy for somebody to hide in the straw. They gave that person plenty enough time to hide in the straw after the spirit stopped moving before they tipped it over. But I think that many of the people there actually believe it. The spirits moved around a lot, sometimes they seemed to chase the people that were part of the dance, sometimes the people seemed to be herding the spirits with their sticks.
Traffic was not too heavy, but still often congested because of the bad road conditions. The paved roads were sometimes worse than the unpaved roads because of the many very deep potholes.
Traffic in Ganvie is exclusively on canoes. Only the hotel and other larger outfits have motorboats, most of the canoes are rowed, poled or sailed. Each household has usually four canoes, one for the man, one for the wife, one for the boys and one for the girls.
The market in Ganvie is all done on boats. The women who sell food stuff load it on their boats and then go to the market area. Shoppers come in their boats to look at what is available on the market boats.
Around Ganvie, fishing is the main occupation for everybody. Lots of fishing is done from their canoes with casting nets. They also do large scale fish farming. For that they get palm fronds and stick them in the water in a dense, large rectangular array, about 50 m (160 ft) to 100 m (330 ft) on a side. The palm fronds don't grow, but provide shelter. Fish tend to spawn in these dense areas of palm fronds, and stay there, sheltered from sun and wind, with lower water temperatures due to the shade. After a year or so, the fishermen surround the whole patch of palm fronds with a net. The longer they wait, the larger the fish are and the more they can earn from the catch. Now all fish in the area are trapped. They remove the palm fronds, and then slowly close the net and harvest all the fish in the whole area.
What was unexpected was the fact that nobody smiles in Benin, everybody is grumpy. Even the kids rarely smile, which is very unusual in Africa. I have no idea what causes this, but it was very noticeable.
Curious kids looking at the stranger. (657k) Young child walking around on the landing quay on the mainland. (583k) Children waving at as. (767k) Young child playing with a discarded plastic bag. These plastic bags are discarded everywhere and pollute everything around the villages. (821k) Child in a boat. (716k) A young kid alone on a boat. (600k) Local kids. (881k) Local kids playing Foosball, a common game. (1014k) School children in uniform on their way home after school. (760k) Local school children. At least a couple of them were smiling a little. (1019k) Girl out shopping for food. (973k) Teenagers transporting barrels, I have no idea what they contain. (676k) A bunch of kids, none of them smiling. (755k) Finally some smiling kids. This was very rare. (813k) A family on the way to market. (704k) Washing and bathing on the beach. (828k) Local people in the fishing village. (805k) Women on their way to the market, carrying their goods on their heads. (771k) Women arriving on shore from Ganvie. They gather there before going to the local market on shore. They take their paddles with them. Women mostly use paddles, while men more use poles. (815k) Women on their way to market. (787k) Woman on her way to market. (682k) Woman with baby on her back. (962k) A woman rowing towards the mainland. (872k) Woman coming off her boat, carrying her load on her head and her baby on her back. (671k) As everywhere in Africa, women tend to bend down from the waist when they pick up something. (655k) Some women where wearing these huge hats, but not too many. Most only wore some kind of head cloth. (682k) Getting ready for the market. (865k) Young woman. Women use a bundle of cloth as cushion when they carry loads on their head. (571k) Fisherman in Ganvie. (826k) He didn't seem to be in any hurry to get anywhere. (676k) He just landed on the mainland and is taking his pole with him. The poles are quite long, they have to reach the floor under the water everywhere he goes in his boat. (609k) Man on a boat. (537k) These are the common clothes worn by the local men. (844k) Women in western clothes. Younger women, women in larger cities, and women in the south were wearing more western style clothes. (873k) Woman in a mix of western and traditional clothes. (885k) Muslim man. They were more common in the north, but even there traditional African clothes were much more common. (707k) Woman in traditional clothes with her baby on her back. (753k)
Business, Markets, and Agriculture
Banana plants and firewood. (875k) Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera, german: Kokospalme, french: Cocotier). (1148k) Millet field. Millet and Sorghum are major grain crops in West Africa. (1109k) Collecting millet straw. It is used for roofing. (964k) Cotton field. (1163k) Cassava field (Manihot esculenta, german: Maniok, french: Manioc). The cassava grow in the mounds. They get pretty big, around 0.5 m (1.6 ft) long. (1149k) Cashew Tree (Anacardium occidentale, german: Cashew, french: Anacardier). (1342k) Cashew Tree (Anacardium occidentale, german: Cashew, french: Anacardier) fruit. The nut itself is at the bottom of the fruit. (873k) Local dog. I did not see many dogs in Benin, by far less than in other countries. (583k) Zebu type cow. The scars are marks that tell who owns it. (798k) Herd of cows. They were common in the central parts of Benin. In the northern parts I saw more goats and sheep. (756k) Signs for hair dressers were everywhere. (806k) First I thought this was gravel to repair the road. It actually is manioc that people dry on the side of the road and then sell in bags. (1028k) Bags with dried manioc for sale. Somebody seems to have vandalized them. (917k) Dried ground manioc for sale. The roadside vendors of one type of merchandise tended to aggregate in the same area. (777k) Bags with charcoal for sale along the road. (884k) Firewood for sale. (1191k) Gasoline for sale. These stands sell gasoline by the bottle for motorcycles. They were everywhere in Benin. (963k) Roadside food stand. (766k) Roadside stand with local manufactured items. (812k) Roadside vendors. Whenever a car stops, the women crowd around it to try to sell them their wares. We frequently bought food items from such vendors, like peanuts, bananas, pineapples, fried plantain, etc. (773k) Street-side vendor. (904k) Wooden mortars for sale. They are used everywhere to pound manioc into fufu. (925k) Reed straw is a major building material for roofs. (701k) Transporting reed straw building material. (945k) Children bringing home stuff collected in the fields. (983k) Busy market scene. (719k) Market scene. Mostly women visit the markets. They almost always carry their loads on their heads. (893k) Grains for sale in the local market. (953k) Market stall with various food stuff for sale. (873k) Local market. (978k) Butchering a cow on the beach. (710k) Making salt. The salty soil is washed, the brine is filtered and then boiled. (791k) Transporting new dugout canoes. (611k) Ganvie woman with a large load on the way to market. (534k) Women in the boat market, hawking their produce. (821k) Market boats waiting for customers. (920k) Market boats waiting for customers. (644k) Fishing nets. (921k) Fish traps and other fishing implements in the water near Ganvie. (707k) Fisherman casting a net. (743k) Fisherman casting a net. (732k) Fisherman throwing a net. (619k) The net forms a neat circle in the water. (616k) Fisherman pulling in a net. (692k) Fisherman pulling in a net. (761k) Fisherman pulling in a net. (622k) Some of the fishermen were fishing in the heavy surf of the ocean in their small dugout canoes. (604k) Fish nursery with palm fronds. (671k) Fish nursery being harvested. The palm fronds are being removed after the area has been surrounded by a net. (603k) These shack out on the water are used while harvesting a fish farming plot. (592k) Fishermen resting after pulling in their net. These nets are huge and require 20 - 30 people to pull in. Everybody who helps to pull in the net gets a some part of the catch. (712k) Quiet moment on the beach with fishing boat and gear. (722k) Fishermen carrying home their huge net. (869k)
Roads and Transportation
Some of the roads, even in small cities were not paved. Some of them were in pretty rough conditions. (715k) Trucks were weaving along the road to avoid the worst of the potholes. (638k) Road repair. A lot of the roads had really bad potholes, they were badly in need of repair. (816k) Speed brakes on the road. These were everywhere. Almost every village had these speed brakes to slow down traffic through the village. (700k) A lot of transportation is still done by hand. (687k) Main waterway in Ganvie during quiet time. No potholes here (742k) Dugout canoe. (962k) Transporting reed straw building material. (945k) Fisher woman bringing the catch to market. Around Ganvie almost all traffic is on boats. (663k) Boats-man with a big pole for pushing his boat. (552k) These women were sailing. (618k) Small sailboat. (629k) Market traffic in Ganvie. (715k) A fleet of women in canoes on their way to market. (698k) My boat on the way to Ganvie, with fish nurseries on both sides. (621k) Family on the "road" in Ganvie. They certainly have more room than most families on land that travel with bicycles or motorcycles, which are the equivalent of the small boats. (1146k) School children arriving for school in the morning, everybody of course by boat. (611k) Not all boats were the dugout canoe type. (616k) Motorcycle traffic in Benin. (670k) Loaded motorcycle with man, wife, and the baby on the back of the mother. (674k) Fully loaded car on a dirt road. (803k) Cars are frequently loaded to capacity. This one was bringing live pigs to the market on its roof. (602k) We saw lots of broken down trucks on the roads like this. They usually mark the trucks with tree branches in addition to a warning sign (if they even have one). (558k) Apparently something fell off one of the overloaded trucks and hit the one behind. (574k) Long line of trucks at the Benin/Togo border. As always there are women selling food. (582k) Tanker trucks. They go from the coast to Burkina Faso, since Burkina Faso doesn't have a port or a pipeline. (793k) Truck with cotton harvest. (832k) Overland bus making a rest stop. (660k) Many of the diesel trucks were extremely polluting. (804k)
Local home in the north of Benin. The buildings are the same type of construction as in the north of Togo. Details are shown in the Togo description. (1013k) Old 19th century building in a fishing village. (847k) Community house of the village. (579k) School with foreign aid workers camping in the yard. (897k) Village water supply. (882k) I saw these high TV antenna poles frequently. They try to pick up the TV signal from the next town. (620k) Statue of a local king. (664k) Sign for SOS Children's Village. This is a charity that I remember from more than 50 years ago from Germany, where we used to donate for the "SOS Kinderdörfer". (543k) Local church. (742k) Local mosque. (724k) Houses in Ganvie. (710k) House in Ganvie. (752k) Hotel in Ganvie. (653k) Front door in Ganvie. (684k) Still life Ganvie style. (870k) Main waterway in Ganvie during quiet time. (742k) A big statue in Ganvie. It was in somewhat neglected shape. (646k) Mosque in Ganvie. (666k) Christian Church in Ganvie. (647k) Fishing still life. (836k) Moat around the center of Abomey. The moats there are not filled with water (too little available), but with thick thorn brush and snakes. This is even more impenetrable than a water moat. (1.5M) Wall in Abomey with the crests of all 12 Abomey kings. (600k) Each king built his own palace. In front of the palace they planted one of these trees. (955k) Entrance gateway to the palace of one of the Abomey princes. (898k) Entrance gateway to the palace of one of the kings of Abomey. (671k) A recent fire destroyed much of this palace of one of the Abomey kings. (680k) Main seat of the principal Voodoo priest in Abomey. (767k) Monument for a German who helped the people of Abomey against the French. (909k) Béhanzin Statue. He signed a treaty with the French at this place. (950k) Large Christian church in Abomei. (1000k) Relaxing in the evening in front of the hotel in Ganvie. As it turned out, I got a lot of mosquito bites during that hour, despite mosquito repellent. But it was nice to sit there and watch the sun set with a few beers. (792k)
History museum in Ouidah, which was part of a fort during the slave trade time. (708k) Monument at the "Dark Place". After arriving at the coast, the slaves were kept in a dark, windowless dungeon in cramped conditions for several days to see whether they could survive the long sea voyage. (1037k) Statue of a female slave. (610k) Statue of a male slave. (706k) The Port of No Return, monument for the slaves that were shipped out from here. (593k)
Sacred Forest in Ouidah, a place of worship for the Voodoo religion. The tree is said to be more than 100 years old. (1408k) Statue of a Legba with a large phallus. The Legba is an intermediary between humanity and the spirit world. (1148k) Protector of the king (with one leg). He carries symbols for the moon and the sun. (1155k) Thundergod, a protector. He will kill bad people during thunderstorms. (1225k) Fetish wizard. This is a manifestation of the voodoo dolls where you stick needles in a doll, symbolizing a person, to punish that person. (1160k) Born with deformities (three heads), symbolizing punishment for past misdeeds. (1312k) Statue in front of a Voodoo temple. (912k) Voodoo worship shrine in a fishing village. (994k) Voodoo market with lots of animal carcasses and skins (some of them rare animals) for sale. Voodoo religion uses animal carcasses a lot in their ceremonies. (989k) Some of the houses had animal carcasses on the door to protect from bad spirits. (1070k) Dankoli Voodoo Shrine. This is one of the holiest, most important Voodoo shrines. (1263k) Voodoo dance music group. (888k) Musicians during the Voodoo dance. (817k) Musician at the Voodoo dance. (899k) Women and children were dancing enthusiastically during the Voodoo dance celebration. (808k) A group of women dancing. (1069k) Even the kids got into dancing during the Voodoo dance. (758k) Some of the women were dancing with the babies on their back. (874k) Close-up of a woman during the Voodoo dance. (644k) Close-up of a woman during the Voodoo dance. They got very involved in the dance. (580k) The elders of the village, watching the Voodoo dance. (753k) Voodoo fetish with the elders of the village. (791k) Voodoo priest in the Voodoo shrine. (710k) Voodoo priest blessing the Voodoo spirit. (865k) Voodoo spirits in a local fishing village, far away from any tourists. This showed that this is not something staged for tourists. (633k) Voodoo spirits in Abomey on their way through town to a Voodoo dance. (907k) This looked a little bit like a matador waiting for a bull to charge. (684k) At times the spirit would approach the spectators and create some excitement. (986k) Men and spirits chasing each other. (768k) Showing us that there is no person in the spirit, but the spirit leaves a gift. (854k) There were up to three spirits carousing around the dance area, herded by the men. (663k)