The Republic of Benin is a state in West Africa, formerly known as Dahomey.
It has a very small coastline along the Bay of Benin, sharing a border with Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and with Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Benin is now a presidential republic, the current head of state and government is Yayi Boni, the capital is Porto-Novo, but the government headquarters is in Cotonou. Benin is a member of ‘the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).
The official language is French.
Benin (formerly Dahomey) declared its independence on August 1st, 1960 and along with Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Burkina Faso, it joined the Western EMU. The currency adopted in Benin remains the CFA franc. It is in circulation not only in Benin, but also in other states of the Union and issued by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
Ouidah is the capital of voodoo and the most visited site in the country after Cotonou. It is a city of historical and cultural importance, and there are several temples and museums like the Musée d’Histoire d’Ouidah (also called the Voodoo Museum). Also in Ouidah there is the Forest Park and also the sacred Route des Esclave “the Slave Road? of great historical and symbolic value: slaves were transported along this path, 4 km from the city to the beautiful beaches, from where they were shipped. The street is full of fetishes, statues and small villages. Ouidah is located 40 km from Cotonou, along the main road to Togo
Benin is spread out between the Niger river in the north and the Benin inlet in the south, the elevation of the territory does not vary significantly between different areas of the country. Most of the population lives in the southern coastal plains, where Benin’s major towns are also located, amongst which are Porto Novo and Cotonou. The north of the country principally consists of semi-arid high-plains and is covered by savana.
Benin’s climate is warm and humid, rainfall is in short supply and concentrated in two rainy seasons (April-July and September-November). In winter the nights are very cold, because of the harmattan, a dry and dusty wind.
About forty different ethnic groups live in Benin, the largest of whom are the Fon, to which belongs 49% of the total population of the country. Other relevant ethnic groups are the Adja, Yoruba, Somba and Bariba [the Benini].
Most ethnic groups have their own language, but French is used as the official language (the country is part of Francophone Africa and is spoken mainly in urban areas. Among the indigenous languages, the Fon and Yoruba are most used.
Local-indigenous religions are predominant. The Religions introduced successively are Islam (20% of the population) and Christianity (30% of the population).
It is believed that Vudù (or voodoo as it is commonly known) was originated in southern Benin and then introduced into Brazil, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of North America by slaves taken from this area, particularly from the Slaves Coast. The term comes from the Fon language spoken in southern Benin, and means “genius”, “guardian spirit.” From the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, this ancient cult crossed the ocean in slave ships to land on the haitian coast where a successful development perhaps greater than that accorded to their homeland.
Absorbing the local and international influences that have caused some changes, Voodoo has retained its original features and its roots even today dig deep in the fertile soil of traditional African culture. The voodoo ritual of possession, the ritual par excellence, has often been passed off as a phenomenon of collective ecstasy, but more recent studies have given the cult the status of a religion, since it is recognised as containing a number of factors which confirm its theological value.
January 10th World Vodoo Day.
This religious experience is much richer and more complex than is recognised by by Westerners, according to whom, too often, voodoo is nothing more than a trivial form of black magic. In fact it is an entire religion that gives meaning and order to the lives of millions of people, here and elsewhere.
In cities and towns you can attend and assist at ceremonies, during which, between the drum and songs, Voodoo is invoked to take possession of some supporters, leading to genuine expressions of trance.
The World feast of Vodoo is held every January, 10th in the city of Ouidah.