In the 17th
century, the land that currently makes up the southern portion of Benin was under the rule of the Dahomey kings. The seat of power for the Dahomey Kingdom was Abomey
, which is a few hours north of present Cotonou. In general, the Dahomey kings were a violent bunch, with each king pledging to leave their children a larger kingdom. This pledge required constant war in order to expand their territory.
Today, a museum in Abomey
pays tribute to the Dahomey and provides a taste of their ruthlessness. One tapestry shows a king using the dismembered leg of some poor guy to pound in the head of an enemy. In another room, my attention was drawn to a king's throne. At first glance it appeared to be a normal wooden throne but it was held up by four human skulls.
To the southeast of Abomey
, there lies the stilt village of Ganvie
. The village is located in the waters of Lake Nokoue
. As the Dahomey kings were expanding their kingdom and simultaneously pressing conquered people into slavery, they came upon the Tofinu
. To escape, the Tofinu
fled onto the lake where they began constructing homes and living suspended above
the water level of the lake. Fortunately for the Tofinu
, the slave hunters
pursuing them were forbidden to give chase onto the lake due to a religious custom not allowing people onto water.
The Tofinu have
lived there since and today approximately 30,000 villagers live on the lake. The people live almost entirely off of fish which they catch in the lake by building artificial reef-like areas out of palm fronds
. The fronds are stuck into the lake and as they decompose attract fish. After a period of time, the villagers construct nets around the area to haul in the catch.
As an overnight trip from Cotonou, Patrick and I visited Ganvie
. We took a boat ride out and then stayed overnight in a hotel positioned near the market
. The best part of the trip was taking a small canoe to explore the village. Everyone travels by boat. The houses are not connected so boating is a must. In the canals, there are ladies paddling around selling items, boat taxis kids on errands and anything else you could imagine in a village. Fresh water is dispensed by pump and boats full of containers queue up to get their fill. at night, the village shut down quickly but early in the morning boats were already beginning to start the day's business.