30+ Facts About Benin You Should Know

Discover 30+ facts about Benin!

Benin, officially the Republic of Benin is a narrow, club-shaped country lying between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer in West Africa. A diverse country with various cultures and languages, it has a rich and tumultuous history. Seldom visited and poorly understood, fascinating Benin is a country well-worth knowing about. Here are some interesting facts about Benin.

Facts about Benin

1. Benin is the 100th largest country in the world. 

Benin has a total area of 112,622 km² (43,484 sq mi), which makes it slightly smaller than England or the US state of Pennsylvania.

2. Benin shares a land border with four countries.

Benin is bordered by Nigeria (809 km / 503 mi) to the east, Togo (651 km / 405 mi) to the west, Burkina Faso (386 km / 240) to the north-west, and Niger (277 km / 172 mi) to the north-east.

3. Benin has a 121 km (75 mi) long coastline.

All of Benin’s 121 km (75 mi) long coastline stretches along the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Benin has a diverse terrain.

Benin has a diverse terrain, which can be divided into four distinct areas from south to north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain is dotted with lush lagoons, marshes, and lakes. Going north, one can find the plateaus of southern Benin around the Couffo, Zou, and Ouémé rivers, with an elevation between 20 and 200 m (65 and 650 ft). 

North of this, lies an area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills extending around the towns of Nikki and Savé whose altitude seldom reaches 400 m (1,312 ft). Finally, the northernmost region of Benin is an area mainly made up of savanna and semi-arid mountains.

5. The highest point in Benin lies 658 m (2,159 ft) above sea level.

Mont Sokbaro is a hill that is part of the Atakora Mountains range. It lies in the west of Benin along the border with Togo and rises to an elevation of 658 m (2,159 ft) above sea level.

6. The Benin national flag has three colors.

The Benin national flag consists of two horizontal bands of yellow and red that stretch out from a vertical band of green along the hoist side. The colors of the Benin flag stem from the Pan-Africanist movement, which played a key role in the nation’s independence movement. 

The green symbolizes Benin’s distinctive groves of palm trees, while the yellow band also represents the nation’s savannas. The red band represents all of the people who have fought for the nation and the blood that they shed for its benefit.

7. Benin gets its name from a body of water.

One of the interesting facts about Benin is that the country derives its name from the Bight of Benin – a bay lying off Africa’s west coast within the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.

8. A person from Benin is known as a Beninese.

A native of Benin is known as a Beninese and not Beninean.

9. Benin’s southern coast was part of the Slave Coast.

Benin’s southern coastal region was part of the historic Slave Coast which was a major source of Africans that were taken into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the late 19th century. 

For over three centuries, the powerful rulers of what is present-day Benin captured and sold slaves to British, French, and Portuguese merchants. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from rival tribes were gagged and crammed into vessels bound for Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Benin is coming to terms with its history of selling slaves by restoring monuments to the painful era of the slave trade. This is being done to ensure that future generations of Beninese know their ancestors’ suffering.

10. Benin was formerly known as Dahomey.

Benin was formerly known as Dahomey, a powerful kingdom in West Africa that existed from about 1600 until 1894. Known for its military discipline and powerful arms, the Dahomey Kingdom reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

11. Benin is a former French colony.

The decline of the Dahomey Kingdom at the end of the 19th-century gave France the opportunity to wage a series of wars with the kingdom. The French conquered Dahomey in a campaign lasting from 1892 to 1894. Subsequently, the territory of the Kingdom of Dahomey became a French colony in 1994 and the colony took the name of French Dahomey.

In 1946, French Dahomey became an overseas territory of France and then in 1958, it became self-governing within the French Community. Independence from France was finally achieved on 1 August 1960 and then in 1975, the country changed its name to the Republic of Benin.

12. Benin doesn’t observe daylight-saving time. 

Daylight saving has never been observed in Benin.

13. The currency of Benin is the West African CFA franc (XOA). 

The West African CFA franc has been the currency of Benin since 1945 when it was still a French colony.

14. Benin is home to a cornucopia of ethnic groups. 

One of the fascinating Benin facts is how ethnically diverse the nation’s population is. The three main ethnic groups in Benin are the Fon, the Adja, the Yoruba, the Bariba, and the Fula. Together, these three ethnic groups account for over four-fifths of Benin’s population.

What’s interesting is that of the major ethnicities, there are generally certain regions where one of the ethnic groups tends to dominate the population. For example, the Fon and the Yoruba both migrated from Nigeria and are mostly found in the southern and southeastern Benin; the Adja people live near the border of Benin and Togo; the Bariba are concentrated primarily in the north-east of the country; whereas the pastoralist Fula people live primarily in the north of Benin.

The remainder of Benin’s population is composed of a smattering of smaller ethnic  groups such as the Dendi, the Betammaribe, the Somba, the Mina, the Xueda, and the Aja. There are also smaller communities of Europeans, Lebanese, Indians, Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians, and Chinese.

15. French is the official language of Benin.

Given that Benin is a former French colony, it comes as no surprise that French is the official language of Benin. French is used in print, in the media, in the judicial system, and in public services. It serves as a lingua franca among the various ethnic groups.

16. A wide assortment of regional languages are spoken in Benin.

Fon, Yoruba, Bariba, Mina, Dendi, and Yom are the main regional languages spoken in Benin. Besides these, a slew of other languages is spoken in the country.

17. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo.

The capital of Benin is located in the southeastern part of the country. The name Porto-Novo is of Portuguese origin and literally means “New Port”. The city was originally developed as a port for the slave trade led by the Portuguese.

18. Cotonou is the largest city in Benin.

Located on the coastal strip between Lake Nokoué and the Atlantic Ocean, Cotonou is Benin’s largest city and commercial center. Cotonou means “by the river of death” in the Fon language. 

Although Porto-Novo is the capital, Cotonou is the seat of government and is home to many government buildings and diplomatic missions. Cotonou is also home to Benin’s only seaport and international airport.

19. Christianity is the major religion in Benin.

Approximately 50% of Beninese are Christians. The majority of Christians in Benin are Roman Catholics followed by Pentecostals, Methodists, and members of the Celestial Church of Christ. A quarter of the population adheres to Islam, while about 15-20% of the population practices Vodun (voodoo) and other animistic religions.

20. Benin is the birthplace of Voodoo.

One of the lesser-known facts about Benin is that the country is the birthplace of Voodoo. While various forms of Voodoo are practiced across Africa, as well as in Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and New Orleans, Benin is definitely the best place in the world for the uninitiated to see it in full swing. The country is even home to a national Voodoo museum and Voodoo Day is a public holiday.

Voodoo is recognized as an official religion in Benin and carries none of the negative connotations it has in the West. Unlike the skewed representation in Hollywood movies, folks here do not stick needles into dolls to cause misfortune to their enemies.

Even Christians and Muslims in Benin incorporate some Voodoo elements into their beliefs. But Voodoo is more than a belief system, it is a complete way of life. For the pious, animal sacrifice, ghosts, sorcerers, witch doctors, snake worship, and magic are part of everyday life.

21. Football is the most popular sport in Benin.

Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Benin. Unfortunately, the Benin men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

22. Personal photography is a sensitive issue in Benin.

One of the most amusing facts about Benin is that the Beninese don’t really like having their photo clicked. Thanks to the influence of animism  and voodoo, a large number of Beninese people actually believe that getting a photograph clicked can take away a piece of a person’s soul!

23. The leopard is the national animal of Benin.

The mighty cat is Benin’s national animal and is even featured prominently on the country’s coat of arms.

24. Snakes are revered in Benin.

One of the most unique Benin facts is that snakes are revered in the country and it is considered a sign of good fortune if a snake crosses one’s path. Snakes even eat and sleep in people’s homes. Benin is also home to the Temple of Pythons, a sacred shrine that’s home to scores of royal pythons that move freely within the temple’s grounds.

25. Benin has the world’s sixth-highest fertility rate. 

With an average of 5.47 children born per woman, Benin is only second to Niger in terms of fertility rate.

26. Benin has never won a medal at the Olympics.

Despite having participated in the Summer Olympics since 1972, Benin has never won a medal. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.

27. Benin’s main export partner is Bangladesh.

Benin is a big cotton producer and Bangladesh is the world’s second-biggest huge textile manufacturing center. It makes perfect sense that Bangladesh is its main export partner, needing all that cotton for clothes.

28. Benin suffers from a low literacy rate. 

Only about 40-45% of Benin’s population is literate, making it one of the least literate countries in the world.

29. Benin drives on the right. 

Vehicles in Benin drive on the right side of the road.

30. Kuli-Kuli is the national dish of Benin. 

The national dish of Benin is basically like deep-fried peanut butter. Kuli-kuli is made from a mashed peanut paste mixed with salt, pepper, and some spices. The mixture is then fried in peanut oil. 

31. Benin is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Benin are the Royal Palaces of Abomey and the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex.

32. Capital punishment is illegal in Benin.

Benin is one of the few countries in Africa to have abolished the death penalty. Although the last execution in Benin took place in 1987, Benin fully abolished the death penalty in 2016.

33. Some of the most notable people from Benin or Beninese descent include singer Angélique Kidjo, actor Djimon Hounsou, composer Wally Badarou, and singer Gnonnas Pedro.