Somba ethnic group in Benin:
miniature castles and scarified faces

7th December 2017 

Like the Tamberma people of Togo, also the Somba of Benin have learned to build fortified houses, real miniature castles, for defensive purposes. But what distinguishes this people is mainly the scarification of the face and other parts of the body, as a rite of initiation to show the belonging tribe.

Tata Somba
As we have already seen in Togo, also in northern Benin there is the tradition of building fortified houses looking like real miniature castles. This particular architecture (Tata Somba) was born during the seventeenth century, to defend from soldiers of other tribes looking to catch people to be sold as slaves to the New World.
Miniature castle
A miniature castle looks like a small fortress and indeed it's a fortified building used as both warehouse and home. Outside, not far from the door, a fetish prepared with various parts of animals protects the fortified house and its occupants from negativity and evil spirits.
Inside a Tata Somba castle Warehouse
Traditional kitchen
The first floor of the miniature castles has a warehouse and a kitchen, from where a staircase leads to a second floor having a large terrace.
Traditional ladder

The staircase is built by carving the steps into a single piece of wood. Once on the terrace of the second floor, the visitors will soon see the granary, a structure where seeds are stored.
Tata Somba granary
Somba village
From the terrace of the miniature castles, there is beautiful view of the village and of the surrounding savannah full of huge baobabs.
Seeds left to dry Tata Somba terrace
Cereals in dry climates
The terrace of the miniature castle is used as a safe place to dry cereals (mainly millet, sorghum and corn) which, once ready, will be stored in the granaries build along the border of the terrace. The structure is very solid and supports the weight of many people: the main building material is raw clay mixed with animal's dung and internally reinforced with wooden beams. The exposed surfaces are waterproofed by spreading once a year an infusion of tamarind.
Warehouse Bedroom

On the terrace there is also a narrow access to bedrooms and to other small warehouses.
Miniature fortress
But now let's go back downstairs to continue the exploration of this interesting village in northern Benin.
Scarified face Somba people
Somba Somba ethnic group
The Somba people of Benin are recognized for the presence of scarification on the face and other parts of the body. The scarification has the purpose of initiating a person into adult life, showing courage, as well as identifying the tribe to which belongs. Usually the scarification is made on the face, the belly and the back.
Somba house Clay castle
Miniature castle Somba of Benin
Walking among the miniature castles, or Tata Somba, in northern Benin. These small fortresses are classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, for their traditional architecture among some of the most interesting and beautiful of whole Africa.
The facade of the miniature castles shows drawings similar to those on the face and on the belly of the people after the scarification.
Cereals in Benin Cereals in dry regions of Africa
Millet Sorghum
Nuts Landscape from the terrace
More photos from the top of the terraces of the miniature castles, with the seeds of various cereals (mainly sorghum and millet) left to dry. The whole atmosphere is very picturesque and probably one of the most traditional that can be found in Africa.
Village in Benin Somba of Benin
The savannah northern Benin, full of large baobabs, the miniature castles and lot of children always very curious to meet tourists.

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