Benin Arts and Traditions


As a country located in Africa according to Usprivateschoolsfinder, the traditions of Benin essentially refer to the culture that spread during the supremacy of the kingdom of Abomey. The mythology connected to animism is still alive and complex. Certain forms of worship are part of the generally widespread animism, such as that of the legba, divinities who guard the entrances to villages, markets and homes; these fetishes are also common to the rites of fertility and among them the one called iroko is very common. Alongside animism in its most genuine forms, syncretistic forms of religiosity remain, which arose from contamination of Christianity. The vast majority of the population, in fact, practices voodoo, belief that recognizes a supreme deity and other lesser spirits; the cult of ancestors is also particularly important. The priests who help communicate with the spirit world are called juju: the rites that are practiced include gifts such as food or drink. Although the common Western opinion links voodoo to negative practices of black magic, in reality these beliefs, as they are practiced and lived in the African country, are usually positive and the relationship with the gods usually has the purpose of propitiating happiness and prosperity. The basis of the cuisine is the sweet potato (yam): a puree is prepared or the tuber is cut into small pieces and fried. Other important ingredients are rice, peppers, couscous and peanut sauce. Among the drinks, beer and palm wine stand out.


Benin, an important center of Fulbe and Fon cultures, and of Orisha and Voodoo animism, which the graft of Western civilization did not destroy, has a rich oral literature, which presents various tendencies: a political-historical one, with legends that exalt the past, praise or patriotic songs; a didactic-moralizing one, in which the satire of costume enters; and a philosophical one, centered on the themes of death and destiny. The establishment in Abomey of a branch of the Institut Français d’Afrique Noire directed the elites towards the search for African cultural heritage. Paul Hazoumé’s essays (and his novel Doguicimi, 1935) and Maximilien Quénum have contributed to making known the cultures of the Fulbe and Fon. Also important are the historical-ethnological works of J. Alapini, AS Tidjani, A. Akindélé, C. Aguessi and Alexandre Adandé. The racial awareness and nationalism of the 1950s XX shift the interest towards more current, socio-political problems. Among the poets we mention KP Joachim (who is also a journalist), Jean Pliya, author of a historical drama and good storyteller, E. Oladougou and B. Laleye. For the narrative we remember O. Bhêly-Quenum, J. Alapini, A. Coyssy, W. Dave, IA Galley and B. Laleye. The work of “memory” remains present in the modern literature of Benin which can be considered as a catalyst between oral and written form; furthermore, socio-political factors reinforce the effects of religious beliefs. Among the most appreciated authors, Dominique Aguessy, writer, sociologist, poet, whose interest in the oral traditions of Africa has led to the collection, for some time, of allegorical legends and stories. Thus, Les chemins de la sagesse. Contes et légendes du Sénégal et du Bénin (1993; The paths of wisdom) and Le camaléon bavard (1994; The chattering chameleon) in which the roots of the story sink into a universe that represents the totality of space and time. A humorous streak reinforces this symbolic approach towards the search for solutions to the fundamental problems of human existence. Successfully continues the work of Bhêly-Quenum, whose main work, Piège sans fin (1994; Trappola senza fine), has been republished in France. In addition to short stories published in collections, we must remember Les appels du Voudou (1994), a great saga in which history, political and everyday life are mixed. His works have now been translated into the most popular languages, including Italian. Among the emerging writers, Moudjib Djinadou (b.1965), author of L’avocat de Vanessa (1991; Vanessa’s lawyer), Adrien Huannou, professor of literature at the University of Cotonou, author of important essays such as La question des litératures nationales en Afrique noire (1989) and especially of La critique et l ‘enseignement de la littérature africaine aux États-Unis d’Amerique, a work that has aroused numerous controversies in the United States. Finally, Serpos Noreini Tdjani (b. 1946), author of Bamikilé (1996), which deals with the underground political and cultural movements that have allowed democratic renewal on the African continent. The authors of comedies of costume or historical dramas with moralizing intentions are P. Fabo, Maurice Mêlé, Noyonda and P. Coyssy.


In Benin the royal palaces of Abomey should be mentioned, with bas-relief decorations in polychrome painted clay illustrating military exploits of the fon people and courtly scenes, hunting and animals in general. A powerful spectacle are offered by the three large statues depicting, in anthropo-zoomorphic form, the most illustrious kings of that dynasty: Ghezo, Glèlè, Béhanzin.

Benin Arts

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