Ganvie stilt city and the history of slave trade in Ouidah
10-11th December 2017
Also called the Venice of Africa, Ganvie is the largest water city of Africa where life takes place entirely among boats and stilts houses. Ouidah is instead the voodoo capital of West Africa and is also known for the sad history concerning the slave trade.
Ganvie is a city on stilts among the largest in Africa and in the world, found in southern Benin just a short distance away from the capital Cotonou. Ganvie can only be reached by canoe and is located along the northern shores of Lake Nokoue, a remote area with no roads, chosen as a residence by the Tofinu people during the 16th century, to hide from soldiers looking for people to be sent to the slave trade market.
Ganvie has about 20,000 inhabitants living in stilts houses, built with wood and bamboo. In the past the roofs were built by straw, but starting from the last few years, they tend to use corrugated metal sheets, as they are more waterproof and require less maintenance.
One of the most important activities in Ganvie
, which involves adults and children, who launch their nets in the shallow waters of Nokoue lake
, among stilt houses and fields of water lilies in bloom.
As in a sort of "waterworld", life in Ganvie
takes place entirely on the water, moving on board of traditional wooden pirogues, some of which are motor-powered. People use the boat to go shopping at the floating market, to go to school, to go fishing and move between the stilts buildings of the city.
, built with a few wooden beams that act as a suspended floor, corrugated metal sheets for roofs and walls, houses a religious ceremony where the sermon is spread through a powerful sound system to any corner of the city.
In Ganvie, as in many African villages, there is no aqueduct
that serves the houses, so the water must be taken from a distributor and transported to the house by canoe, collecting it into large containers.
For those who want to visit Ganvie
for longer time, appreciating this huge stilt city
at different times of the day, a modest hotel located on a small island, can be the ideal place to spend the night.
A short distance from Ganvie, in southern Benin
, visitors cannot miss a visit to Ouidah
, the world's capital of voodoo
and a city well known for the history of slave trade
. The excursion to Ouidah begins by visiting the Temple of the Pythons
, a place where snakes are venerated as protectors of the city and purifiers of the soul.
take place in the Temple of the Pythons
. A priest performs rituals by making fetishes and amulets inside a gloomy building inaccessible to the uninitiated, while a sacred tree welcomes requests from adherents, followed by animal sacrifices.
instead becomes a pile of animal remains sacrificed as an offering to the represented divinity.
The Python Temple
is home to almost 100 snakes, protected as a divinity. In Benin it is believed that killing a python brings bad luck and negativity, while wearing one around the neck allows the soul to purify.
The Portuguese Fort
dates back to the first half of the eighteenth century and is a structure that played a very important role as a diplomatic base during the colonial era. In 1961 the Portuguese were expelled and the fort was partially destroyed. Subsequently restored and turned into a museum
, the building houses exhibits that illustrate the sad events happened in West Africa during the slave trade
: facts that the whole world should know, but that I cannot show, because in the museum is strictly forbidden to take pictures.
The remaining part of the excursion to Ouidah is dedicated to the slave trade in West Africa, traveling along the same route traveled by slaves from the city's center to the beach, where they were finally boarded and sent to the New World.
The last journey of the slaves began in a large square where they were selected and bought by the intermediaries: this was actually possible only with the complicity of the local chiefs and kings who governed these regions, selling people forcefully collected here and there in West Africa, in exchange of luxury items unavailable in the continent.
Along the road to the beach, the slaves made 3 turns around the tree of no return
so called because, from this moment, they were certain that they would never return alive in Africa again. Today the tree is gone, but in its place there is a memorial representing a siren.
Before being taken on board the ship, the slaves were locked up for many days in this building, bound, gagged and treated inhumanly, to allow a sort of natural selection: only the strongest had to survive, as they could be sold at higher prices once arrived at final destination.
The next stop was the "tree of return
" where slaves turned around three times as a propitiatory ritual, to return to Africa in the form of a spirit once dead overseas. Currently it is a large Sausage tree, a tree quite widespread in Africa.
Slaves not surviving
the torture practiced before boarding the ship, were just thrown (sometimes still alive) in a large mass tomb, where a memorial was recently built. The skeletons of thousands of people were found in the pit.
Finally, the slaves passed the point of no return
, where they took their last steps on the African continent, before boarding the slave ship waiting offshore.
Exploring the shore line in southern Benin
, we found a large beach
with some remote villages
Along the beach, in contrast with the conditions of local people, there are some luxury resorts
In Benin, as in much of West Africa, between early December and February, the Harmattan wind
blows, a cool and dusty wind from Sahara desert, producing a gray sky with the sun shining through (but still no rain).