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When seen from the air, the sizable village of Ganvie looks like it's been the victim of a flood. It hasn’t, but is rather Africa’s largest stilt village. Its watery surrounds are there out of choice and it makes for one of Benin’s most unusual sights.
In the beginning of the 17th century, when this part of modern day Benin was the Kingdom of Dahomey, it was one of the most powerful regions in West Africa. Its rulers and nobles consisted largely of the aggressive Fon tribe, who practiced slavery. When the Portuguese arrived, demand increased and ruthless Fon warriors set about raiding neighbouring villages, kidnapping inhabitants and supplying them to the Portuguese slave ships.Read more
Yet the Fons were extremely superstitious and mystical - some believe Voodoun has been largely derived from the Fon belief system. One bright spark from the Tofinu tribe (nobody quite knows who) noticed that for all their brandishing and swagger, the Fon were, by way of superstition, afraid to step on water. Thus, Lake Nokoué was chosen as the site of Ganvie, whose name rather poetically means ‘a collective of those who found peace at last.’
Centuries later, peace still reigns in Ganvie. Every single dwelling is connected by a waterway - in fact the only constructions on dry land are the school and cemetery. Every facet of life and culture is carried out on the water; man, woman and child expertly glide between the homes in dug out canoes to work, school and play. On market day, sellers hawk their wares from canoes, whilst in the evening young people moor up outside the village’s only bar. Fishing, or rather fish farming, is Ganvie’s main source of income, supplemented by small earning from travellers intrepid enough to come here to view an odd, yet inspiring, triumph of human ingenuity.