Thursday, March 24, 2016

Throw Back Thursday: The Venice of Africa

Traditional pirogue (boat)
As part of my 2007 trip to Benin, our group spent time learning about the slave trade from the African perspective. One of our stops was the safe haven of Ganvié.
Entering the very traditional pirogue (boat), I had no idea what was in store. We traveled for what seemed like forever past fishing boats, other pirogues that served as water taxis on  Lake Nokoué, near Cotonou. Some with motors and others with hand sewn sails. The amazing village that awaited me is still one of the most impressive places I have ever been.
Ganvié is Africa’s largest lake village with approximately 20,000 residents sitting nearly 4 miles from the nearest shoreline on Lake Nokoué. When I say it is a lake village, I mean all structures are on stilts above the water, including the scattered electricity. 

The marketplace is a row of boats bumped up against each other, you float past on your own boat. Older structures look like they could fall into the waters below with a hefty gust of wind. Ganvié is the kind of place you fall in love with because it is so rickety and you feel like you could be electrocuted in your room while as you sleep.
The village was founded in the sixteenth or seventeenth century by the Tofinu people who fled the shores near what is now Cotonou as the West-African Fon tribe was hunting and selling other native tribesman to the Portuguese and taken to the Americas. While there were few physical impediments protecting the ancestors of today's Ganvie village from outside attack, Fon religious practice forbade their raiders from advancing on any peoples dwelling on water, laying the groundwork for the Ganvie Lake Village. Today, the village’s main industries are tourism and fish farming.

At night, the chants of Beninese voodoo followers are heard among the water plants. This isn’t the Americanized voodoo of pin dolls but rather a very majestic, misunderstood religion full of tall tales, kings, priests and ghosts.   
Photos from Ganvié:

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