28Black: A Brief History of the Republic of Benin

Updated: Feb 8

It is impossible to talk about Black History Month without acknowledging the colonization of several African regions, slavery, and the chains our ancestors fought with blood to get liberated.


Benin, formerly known as Dahomey from 1600-1894, was defeated by the French in 1894. It became a self-governing part of the French Community in 1958.


Dahomey gained independence from the French in 1960 and was subsequently renamed the People's Republic of Benin in 1975.


The Republic of Benin shares a similar history to Nigeria, as both countries regained independence in 1960 and share borders with Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Togo. A significant difference between both countries is the Anglophone and Francophone languages, as Nigeria was colonized by the British, and France colonized the Republic of Benin.


Slave trade was a massive part of Benin culture that is rarely addressed. Ouidah, Benin, less than a mile from what was once West Africa's biggest slave port, is the departure point for more than a million people in chains.


The country has preserved its history through archaeological sites like slave forts and the Door of No Return. The town stands in the middle of a lake and fortress-like compounds erected to defend the Somba people from slave raiders.


Historical Sites in Benin Republic

Artistic traditions in Benin are ancient and observed in nearly every town in Benin.

Source: Momo Africa

Artisans and traders developed a relationship with the Portuguese, who sought mainly the artwork, gold, and ivory.

Benin was also heavily involved in the West African slave trade in the early modern era. Men, women, and children from rival tribes were captured and sold to European and American slave buyers.

That said, the Republic of Benin has come a long way since its slave trade days and has preserved the history with historical sites like Port of No Return, which was coined from the period when enslaved people were bound in chains and taken to the port to be sold into slavery.

Here are some historical sites in Benin Republic worth visiting.


1. La Porte Du Non Retour

Better known as the Door of No Return, this is a monument to the over one million enslaved Africans forced to board ships leaving from the port of Ouidah. The memorial arc has a striking size and evokes a powerful emotion due to the painful history it represents.

The slaves were marched in chains from the town’s slave market to the nearby port, where they boarded ships to unknown destinations. The majority of them never returned. They were often blindfolded and marched in circles to make them forget where they came from.


Source: Atlas Obscura

2. Temple des Pythons (Pythons Temple)

Pythons Temple was built as a religious site dedicated to pythons, which the people of Ouidah consider to be sacred.

Ouidah is renowned for its religious traditions and has snakes at the village entrance. The pythons are revered and worshipped at the temple specially built for them.

The boa or the royal python are two of the most represented species and are the object of worship.

Every seven years, a festival involving 41 young virgin girls in a grand purification ceremony takes place inside the temple. The goal is to exorcise evil spirits and bring peace and prosperity to the village.


Source: Tripadvisor

Pythons at Pythons Temple
Source: Atlas Obscura

Tourists visiting Temple des Pythons can even take pictures with a python around their neck as a souvenir. This fun experience costs about 2500 CFA ($5).


The Impact of Slave Trade in the Benin Republic

Benin Republic has come a long way since the slave trade era, but the impact is still felt to date.

The Republic of Benin is an excellent place to learn about the slave trade and its origins as there are tour guides to tell the stories and paint a vivid picture of the things our ancestors went through.

Benin Republic has an abundance of entrepreneurs as its shores are always buzzing with import and export activities.


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