Ganvié, Benin

Whilst on the way to Cotonou we’d read about Ganvié and had decided that it would definitely be worth a visit so got up early and headed to etoille rouge to get a bush taxi. This bush taxi was even worse than the previous, an old 1984 Toyota Tercel that was as old as myself. I might add that I was looking in far better condition after my 28 privileged years living in the UK than this poor Toyota was, I was apprehensive about putting my feet in the foot well as I could clearly see the road through it. But, that said, it got us to the drop off point for Ganvié and I’m sure it had at least another 200,000 miles left in it!

Ganvié is a stilt village which lays in the middle of Lake Nokoué near to Cotonou. Its said that Ganvié is home to more than 20,000 people and is the biggest village of its kind in Africa. The reason that these 20,000 Tofinu people decided to up sticks and move to the middle of a lake dates back to the 17th century. Back then Benin was known as the Kingdom of Dahomey and they profited greatly from capturing young African men in battles and then selling them to the European slave traders. The Tofinu people, wanting to avoid being captured and sold to slave traders moved into the middle of Lake Nokoué as religion forbade the Dahomey’s Fon warriors from entering water, making the lake safe territory for the tribe.

The tribe has stayed in Ganvié and now predominantly make their money from fishing, but we had managed to hire a pirogue to take us out to Ganvié and show us around. It was pretty spectacular, I’d seen something similar in Brunei back in 2007 but this was quite different. All the buildings were made from wood with thatched roofs, men and children were out fishing whilst the women sailed around in their hollowed out boats using bits of bright cloth for sails as they paddled along for extra speed. The Tofinu people had learnt that by reeds and wood rotting in the water attracted the fish and so they would push wood sticks deep into the silty lake bed like a field and then set a net all the way around so that over time the fish would come to feed off the rotting bits of wood and they could then easily catch them, quite a brilliant idea really.

We found the whole thing really interesting and it was like stepping back in time, well, it was right up until the moment we pulled up next to a handmade gift shop they’d made for the few tourists they do get. We declined the offer to get off and look at the shop but said we’d gladly stop for a beer if there were somewhere with a fresh supply. As if by magic, the boat driver knew just the place. We bought three beers and sat and watched stilt village life go by, and the rain clouds come rolling in. It was time to leave before we got caught out in the rain and we just made it back to shore before the heavens opened. Hopping back in another rust bucket we arrived back in Cotonou a short while later, we headed out for some afternoon beers and I purchased some rather dazzling pants, not just to keep the mosquito’s off, but to look bloomin cool at the same time!

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