Benin Culture

Because of its large number of ethnic groups, Benin is a country of diverse cultures. The ministry responsible for culture – Ministère du Tourisme, de la Culture et des Sports, has only existed as a separate ministry for a few years and the state has so far provided relatively little financial means for art and culture, which should have changed after President Yayi five billion francs CFA promised cultural subsidies. The government action plan 2016-2021 (PAG “Plan d’Action Gouvernemental”) considers tourism as one of the most important pillars for the country’s development. Under tourism, cultural funding is also provided.

Private initiatives such as the Fondation Zinsou, Espace Tchif, the Center Arts et Culture de Godomey and the ‘Médiatheque des Diasporas’, but also the Institut Français du Bénin offer artists an important platform. The Fondation Zinsou developed with Wakpon a new app for smartphones, with which you can take a virtual walk through their museum. In Porto Novo, the Musée da Silva is located in an Afro-Brazilian building and houses a curious collection of exhibits. The Musée Honmé is housed in the old palace of King Toffa and illustrates the history of the kingdom of Porto Novo. The Ethnographic MuseumAlexandre Senou Adande is arguably the most interesting museum in Porto Novo. In Ouidah the Fondation Zinsou opened a museum (Art du Contemporain) for contemporary art in the Villa Adjavon. There is also the Historical Museum and the Musée Francisco Félix de Souza. The ethnographic open-air museum is located in Parakou and the regional museum and the Kaba resistance museum can be visited in Natitingou.

Some of the finest works of art from the Kingdom of Dahomey are now in European collectionssuch as B. in the Musée du Quai Branly. At the end of July 2016, the Benin government sent an official request to Paris to start negotiations on the restitution of works of art looted by France during the colonial era. The “Fondation Zinsou”, especially its president Marie-Cécile Zinsou, who passed away in February 2019, was heavily involved in this restitution. France has refused the restitution.

In September 2015, the University of Abomey-Calavi, the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Paris Institute National d’Histoire de l’Art held a conference in Paris “Dynamics of a History and a Creation. The case of Benin ”, which dealt among other things with the decisive turning point in Dahomey’s art history in the course of the French conquest (1892-94). Since 2016 the ” Festival International de Porto Novo ” has been taking place in Porto Novo with many events of Benin culture. Every year on January 10th, Ouidah hosts the big voodoo festival with participants from many countries.

According to ezinereligion, Benin has an abundance of handicrafts that vary greatly depending on the region, ethnic group and their history as well as religious affiliation. In certain regions, traditional fabrics are woven into narrow ribbons on handlooms, which are then later sewn together to make larger cloths, sometimes also embroidered. At the royal court of Abomey, applications were sewn onto fabrics. Some of them show the symbols of rule of the kings of Danhomé. Alphonse Yémandjè and his nephew Eugène Fiogbé were the only artists who continued this tradition for a long time.

But the modern, machine-made fabrics, which are colorfully printed and dominate the streetscape in West Africa, contain messages and indirectly tell stories of the individual wearers of these clothes made from the ‘pagnes’.

In numerous localities we encounter wood carvers who on the one hand carve practical objects such as stools or mortars, but also (Guélédé) masks, twin figures, oracle boards and other religious sculptures and objects. Fired clay beads are part of traditional cultural heritage and are currently receiving new attention. In the areas of the south that are rich in water and overgrown with reed grasses, a remarkable basket and mat weaving industry has developed. Blacksmiths and metalworking craftsmen also produce practical items for household and agriculture as well as objects for spiritual purposes.

Above all, Benin has a number of architectural features. The hamlets of Betammaribé in the north, around the provincial capital Natitingou, have an unusual traditional construction with the fortress-like clay castles, the Tata Somba. The complex of the Royal Palace in Abomey has been selected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The museum and craft center is also located here. The wall reliefs created here are also remarkable. The pile dwelling settlement Ganvié, the tropical Venice, is world famous. There are also several other pile dwelling settlements, such as Aguégué, So-Ava, So-Tchanhoué, Houédo and So-Zounko. The cities of Porto Novo with the The Grand Mosque and Ouidah, which the government would like to see on the World Heritage List, as well as Grand Popo and Agoué have beautiful and interesting examples of both colonial and Afro-Brazilian architecture.

Traditional folk festivals with music, dances, masks and elaborate costumes, such as the ‘Revenants’ (Egungun) and Guélédé dancers, Vodoun ceremonies, equestrian festivals, initiation rites and rituals or scarifications are part of the country’s impressive intangible cultural heritage.

Banamè, Covè Benin