Each year on August 1, the Republic of Benin celebrates its Independence Day commemorating the day in 1960 on which it gained its full independence from France. It is celebrated as the country’s National Day, a public holiday.
Located on the Gulf of Guinea, the hot and humid West African nation shares borders with Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Here are 5 interesting facts about Benin.
1. Benin was once known as the Kingdom of Dahomey
2. Over 1 million people were taken from Benin as slaves
For 100+ years, more than 10,000 Africans were shipped from Benin’s southern coast to the Americas–primarily Haiti and Brazil, but also the United States. The last of these ships left for Brazil in 1885.
The city of Ouidah was one of the most active slave trading ports in Africa. Today, tourists can visit the Slave Route, the Ouidah Museum of History, the Door of No Return, and various other monuments dedicated to the memory of those forced into slavery.
3. Benin is home to the "Venice of Africa"
With around 20,000 residents, Ganvie is Africa’s largest lake village and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town was erected on stilts in Lake Nokoue about 500 years ago by people evading being captured and sold into slavery.
Over the years, the people of Ganvie have developed a thriving society with a network of more than 3,000 buildings, including a hospital, post office, school, mosque, church, and bank. The residents of Ganvie get around by boat and rely on underwater fencing to corral and farm different types of fish.
4. The practice of Vodun originated in Benin
Benin is known as the birthplace of Vodun. Today, roughly 17% of the country’s population–around 1.6 million people–practice Vodun.
In tribute to the powerful serpent god Dan, snakes are revered in Benin. Visitors will find snake symbolism throughout the country. The Temple of Pythons in Ouidah is a Vodun temple where dozens of snakes roam freely. Each year on January 10, thousands of followers congregate in Ouidah to celebrate the Vodun Festival.
5. Benin has one of the youngest populations in the world
With a median age of just 17, Benin has one of the youngest populations in the world. In fact, almost 65% of the country’s population is under 25 years old.
These statistics can be attributed to high fertility rates, low rates of contraceptive use, and the fact that there is an average of five children per woman.