Thursday, October 25, 2012


Early art in Benin was not merely art for art’s sake, but it served a purpose: depicting religious, social, cultural, and historical purposes. Much of Benin’s art spans a variety of styles and a variety of mediums. There are masks and figurines that are very typical of central Africa. They use the materials that are around them, so you’ll find much of their art using wood, ivory, clay, terracotta as well as metals such as bronze and brass.

One thing that is particular to Benin itself is called the Ikegobo. And Ikegobo is a cylindrical votive object used to mark someone’s accomplishments. It’s dedicated to the hand, seeing that the hands are the source of wealth and success.  Based on a person’s hierarchal ranking in their society, it can be made of a variety of materials: brass, wood, terracotta, or clay.

Art was always important to Beninese life. They were really famous for their bronze sculptures. These pieces were traded to Muslim traders who helped introduced Beninese art to the world.

Benin, like much of Africa, has a long history of storytelling. And like much of Africa, this was an oral tradition, that is, passing the stories verbally from one generation to another.

The arrival of the French changed things drastically. First of all, there was the obvious influence from the addition of the French language. The first novel written from a Beninese author, called L'Esclave, was written in 1929 by Felix Couchoro. Since then many authors have carved their niche in Beninese literature.

Most writers are employed in either the education field, in some aspect of government, or in journalism. One name that came up is feminist poet Colette Sénami Agossou Houeto. Not only has she been an educator, but she has written scores of poems. Another female writer is Adelaide Fassinou. She is Benin's Secretary General for UNESCO, yet has still managed to churn out four French-language novels. Paulin Joachim is a journalist and editor who has also published two sets of poetry. He was also the recipient of the W.E.B. Du Bois medal in 2006.

Up next: music and dance

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