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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Around Southern Benin

Around Southern Benin
(Tuesday 4 Mar 08)
We left Abomey on Tuesday. We hired a car for CFA 50,000 which brought us to Ganvie (a lake-side village on stilts), Porto Novo (official capital of Benin), Cotonou (largest city and economic capital of Benin) and finally to the famous historical slave port and voodoo religious centre of Ouidah.
Ganvie, with its fishermen and water market, was a lot more picturesque than I had imagined, although local traders, like most other Beninese, resented any photos of them taken. Perhaps something to do with their voodoo belief that souls might be captured by cameras.
Porto Novo, the capital of Benin, was a very sleepy town full of dilapidated and decaying colonial buildings. I am surprised that the government didn't bother to keep the capital clean and tidy given the city's official status. The city does have a good ethnographic museum with an excellent guided tour. Learned a fair bit about different aspects of Benin's regional cultures as well as core voodoo customs, as well as the close links between Beninese and Brazilian cultures and folk religions, due to the transportation of Beninese slaves in Brazil. Also learned that the bare breasts of women are not considered sexual objects in many African cultures, why is the reason we saw some women going about topless in some countries, especially Benin.
Cotonou is a sprawling metropolis and important port not only for Benin but also for inland West African states such as Burkina Faso and Niger. There are some skyscrapers (absent in rest of Benin) and supermarkets. I believe it was either here or in Porto Novo that Bruce Chatwin, the renowned travel writer, got caught up in an attempted coup. He was beaten up, arrested, stripped and humiliated for being suspected as a white mercenary.
We drove on to Ouidah to spend a night. On Wednesday, we would do some sightseeing in Ouidah and then set off for Togo, another West African country.

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