Ganvie, Benin – the African Venice

A region of Benin that has been dubbed the ‘Venice of Africa’ is attracting more tourists than ever before. Have you ever heard of Ganvié, the largest floating village in Africa?

The houses have great designs and remain intact because they get support from the stilts that raise them above the water and hold them in the bottoms of the water. The people living in Ganvie, are the Tofinu people. This tribe relies heavily on fishing for their livelihoods and has developed a deep understanding of the surrounding ecosystem. Despite facing challenges such as pollution and overfishing, the people of Ganvie remain resilient and proud of their heritage. As a result of the peculiar nature of Ganvie Lake village, the ethnic Tofinu people are also described as “The Water People of Benin.” 

The question, however, is why did Tofinu people of Ganvie choose to live in the water houses instead of the land? The story of Ganvie is truly fascinating. The village was built 400 years ago in the era of slavery, right in the middle of Lake Nokoué. Legend narrates that in the 18th century, the indigenous ethnic group of Tofinu built Ganvie, as a tactic to hide away from the Fon tribe, their oppressors. The people of the Fon tribe in the old Dahomey Kingdom were powerful and oppressive. The Fon people used their superiority to kidnap, brutalize, and sell other tribes to slave merchants. Dahomey kingdoms’ soldiers would capture and sell them to Portuguese traders. The mighty warriors of the Fon tribe, however, had a major weakness. They believed that a sacred demon occupied Lake Nokoué. This belief prevented them from entering the river or coming close to Lake Nokoué. The Tofinu were clever enough to see through this and take advantage of the situation. They quickly built homes for their people on this hallowed lake. This unique approach allowed them to escape the oppression of the soldiers and thrive in their new floating village. Following this, the Tofinu people named the village ‘Ganvié’ – which translates to “We survived”. Today, 400 years later, the village still stands. Ganvié now has over three thousand buildings, including a Post office, a school, a bank and even an hotel.