The Taneka villages of Benin

8th December 2017 

Among the mountains of Atakora in northern Benin, the Taneka villages offer excellent opportunities to learn more about culture and traditions of Taneka people, a group of ethnic minorities practicing the Animist religion.

Taneka people Taneka in Benin
The region of Atakora mountains is the home of the Taneka people, a group of ethnic minorities that lives in small villages built among remote areas in north-western Benin. This geographical position was chosen by previous generations, mainly to hide themselves during the period of the slave trade. The economy of Taneka people is based on agriculture and livestock, and they live in small roundly-shaped houses with thatched roofs.
Taneka village chief Cane of the village chief
Taneka chief (sawa)
First of all, we meet the king (or sawa), the most important figure of the community and the political leader who makes the decisions of common interest, mediates during the disputes and meets the foreigners authorizing them to visit the village.
Child playing in Africa
In such remote Taneka villages, there are really few things that can be used as toys by children, so an old deformed wheel rim is enough to play around.
Scarified face Scarification of the face
The Tanekas do not descend from a single ethnic group, but belong to multiple ethnic minorities who used these mountains as a refuge during the slave trade, to hide from soldiers of southern tribes. Each ethnic minority has introduced its own traditions, for example the scarification of the face is different for each of them, but they learned to live all together in perfect peace and harmony.
Infibulation prohibited
A poster written in French explains that in this Taneka village, the infibulation is prohibited because such practice humiliates the woman and because "everyone has the rights to maintain the physical integrity of the body".
Taneka village Taneka houses
Traditional village in Benin Taneka
Traditional kitchen Traditional granary
Taneka granary Taneka house
Taneka homes Straw for the roof
The Taneka people live in round clay houses with a conical roof that ends in an upside-down jar. Some houses seem uninhabited because, as is happening in many other remote villages of West Africa, people tend to move to places where living conditions are better and where it is easier to produce crops. Outside some houses there are large bundles of straw, ready to replace that on the roof during regular maintenance, while the smaller conical buildings are granaries. The kitchens are outdoors and, from time to time, visitors can see some fire lit under a big cauldron.
Traditional wooden stool
A traditional wooden stool, used to sit down when cooking outdoors.
Castor plant Seed used as bio fuel
When living in remote places, people will not have access to lot of things normally available in the most civilized areas, so it will be necessary to be smart and use all the things that the nature gives. The seeds produced by this castor plant are used as a kind of bio-fuel, because they produce lot of heat during combustion. The oil extracted from the same seeds, although toxic in large quantity, is used also for its medicinal properties and can be used also as a lubricant for mechanical parts.
Papaya tree
A huge papaya tree full of fruit.
House of the village chief Ostrich egg on the roof
The house of the village chief (sawa), with the traditional ostrich egg on the roof.
Home made distiller
An home-made, simple but fully functional, distiller. The liquid to be distilled is placed in the cauldron on the right, under which a fire is lit: the vapors are conveyed into a sort of coil, cooled by immersion in a basin of water, while the bottle on the left finally collects the distillate.
Medicinal plant in Africa
A medicinal plant used as a disinfectant and as an antidote for the bite of some snakes.
Taneka spiritual dignitary
Spiritual dignitary
Another important figure in a Taneka village is the spiritual dignitary, recognizable because he wears only a small piece of goatskin and a hat. The spiritual dignitary possesses spiritual secrets and the villagers call him to ask for intercession in case of problems or illness, bringing him food offerings. The spiritual dignitary deprives himself of everything, except for a pipe that smokes almost constantly, through which he finds inspiration and means of communication with the spirits. The spiritual dignitary knows also the power of medicinal plants and can prepare fetishes and amulets to be used as propitiatory objects.
Yam plantation Yam tubers
Moving away from the Taneka village, we walk along fields of yam, a big tuber very important in these remote places, where the climate is not always easy for most crops.
Cooked yam
The yam is peeled, cut into slices and then boiled, before being crushed in a large mortar to obtain a kind of dense cream to be added to fish or meat soup.
Mashed yam
Manioc plants
The manioc (or cassava), on the other hand, produces a smaller tuber than the yam and the plant is easily recognizable because it is a much lower shrub.
Crushing seeds in a mortar Mashed peanuts
Peanut breadsticks Street vendor in Benin
Along the streets of northern Benin it is not uncommon to find families that produce peanut bread-sticks. The peanut seeds are crushed in a large mortar, until obtaining a very oily paste that is then shaped into long sticks. Once fried in palm oil, they are packaged and sold as tasty bread-sticks by street vendors.
Stall selling yam
A stall selling yam tubers along the streets of northern Benin.
Flowered tree in the savannah Flowers in the savannah
A flowered tree in the savannah.

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