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Benin, country, Africa


(bĕnēn`), officially Republic of Benin, republic (2005 est. pop. 7,460,000), 43,483 sq mi (112,622 sq km), W Africa, bordering on Togo in the west, on Burkina Faso and Niger in the north, on Nigeria in the east, and on the Bight of Benin (an arm of the Gulf of Guinea) in the south. Porto-NovoPorto-Novo
, city (1992 pop. 179,138), capital of Benin, S Benin, a port on Porto-Novo lagoon, an arm of the Gulf of Guinea. It is Benin's second largest city and an administrative and shipping center.
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 is the capital and CotonouCotonou
, city (1992 pop. 536,827), capital of Atlantique prov., S Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea. It is Benin's chief seaport and commercial center. Cotonou's airport and road and rail connections also make it the transportation and communications hub of Benin.
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 is the largest city and chief port. Other principal towns include AbomeyAbomey
, town (1992 pop. 66,595), S Benin. It is the trade center for an agricultural region where grain, peanuts, and palm products are processed. The town is linked by railroad with Cotonou.
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, OuidahOuidah
or Whydah
, town (1992 pop. 32,474), S Benin, a port on the Gulf of Guinea. It was the capital of a small state founded about the 16th cent. From the early 17th cent.
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, and ParakouParakou
, town (1992 pop. 103,577), central Benin. It is the trade center for a cotton, grain, and livestock-raising area. Located at the head of the railroad from Cotonou, it is the distribution center for N Benin and Niger. Parakou has an airstrip and a textile research center.
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Land and People

Benin falls into four main geographic regions. In the south is a narrow coastal zone (1–3 mi/1.6–4.8 km wide) fringed on the north by a series of interconnected lagoons and lakes with only two outlets to the sea (at Grand-Popo and Cotonou). Behind the coastal region is a generally flat area of fertile clay soils; this is crossed by the wide Lama marsh, through which flows the Ouémé River. In NW Benin is a region of forested mountains (the Atacora; highest point c.2,150 ft/655 m), from which the Mekrou and Pendjari rivers flow NE to the Niger River (which forms part of the country's northern border). In the northeast is a highland region covered mostly with savanna and containing little fertile soil.

Although there are 42 ethnic groups in Benin, its population is divided into four main ethnolinguistic groups—Fon, Yoruba, Voltaic, and Fulani. The Fon-speakers, who live in the south, include the Fon, or Dahomey (Benin's largest single ethnic group), Aja, Peda, and Chabe subgroups. The Yoruba live in the southeast near Nigeria, the group's main homeland. The Voltaic-speakers live in central and N Benin and include the Bariba and Somba subgroups. The Fulani live in the north. French is the country's official language; Fon, Yoruba, and other indigenous tongues are also spoken. About a third of the inhabitants follow traditional religious beliefs; voodoovoodoo
[from the god Vodun], native W African religious beliefs and practices that also has adherents in the New World. Voodoo believers are most numerous in Haiti, where voodoo was granted official religious status in 2003, and in Benin, where the religion has had official
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 originated here some 350 years ago but was only officially recognized in 1996. About 43% are Christian (largely Roman Catholic) and 25% (living mostly in the north) are Muslim. Benin's population is concentrated in the southern portion of the country and in rural areas.


Benin's economy is overwhelmingly agricultural, with most workers engaged in subsistence farming. The chief crops are cotton, corn, cassava, yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, and cashews. Goats, sheep, and pigs are raised. There is a sizable freshwater fishing industry, and some ocean fish are also caught. Most of Benin's few manufactures are processed agricultural goods, basic consumer items, textiles, and building materials.

Petroleum, discovered offshore of Porto-Novo in 1968, and limestone are extracted. The country's other mineral resources, which include chromite, low-quality iron ore, ilmenite, and titanium, have not as yet been exploited. There is also a developing tourist industry. The country has limited rail and road systems, and they are almost exclusively in the southern and central parts of the country; rail lines are being extended to Niger. A hydroelectric plant completed in 1988 on the Mono River was a collaborative effort between Togo and Benin.

The chief imports are foodstuffs, capital goods, and petroleum products. The principal exports are cotton, cashews, shea butter, textiles, palm products, and seafood. The annual cost of imports usually exceeds earnings from exports. The leading trade partners are China, France, Thailand, Nigeria, and Indonesia.


Benin is governed under the constitution of 1990. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The unicameral legislature consists of the 83-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 12 departments.


Early History

Little is known about the history of N Benin. In the south, according to oral tradition, a group of Aja migrated (12th or 13th cent.) eastward from Tado on the Mono River and founded the village of Allada. Later, Allada became the capital of Great Ardra, a state whose kings ruled with the consent of the elders of the people. Great Ardra reached the peak of its power in the 16th and early 17th cent.

A dispute (c.1625) among three brothers over who should be king resulted in one brother, Kokpon, retaining Great Ardra. Another brother, Do-Aklin, founded the town of Abomey, and the third, Te-Agdanlin, founded the town of Ajatche or Little Ardra (called Porto-Novo by the Portuguese merchants who traded there). The Aja living at Abomey organized into a strongly centralized kingdom with a standing army and gradually mixed with the local people, thus forming the Fon, or Dahomey, ethnic group.

By the late 17th cent. the Dahomey were raiding their neighbors for slaves, who were then sold (through coastal middlemen) to European traders. By 1700, about 20,000 slaves were being transported annually, especially from Great Ardra and Ouidah, located on what was called the Slave CoastSlave Coast,
name given by European traders to the coast bordering the Bight of Benin on the Gulf of Guinea, W Africa. It was the principal source of slaves from W Africa from the 16th cent. to the mid-19th cent.
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. In order to establish direct contact with the European traders, King Agaja of Dahomey (reigned 1708–32), who began the practice of using women as soldiers, conquered most of the south (except Porto-Novo). This expansion brought Dahomey into conflict with the powerful Yoruba kingdom of OyoOyo
, city (1991 est. pop. 226,700), SW Nigeria. It is primarily a farming town, producing tobacco, yams, and cassava. Traditional artisans make textiles and leather goods and carve utensils from shells of the calabash gourd. Oyo was founded c.
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, which captured Abomey in 1738 and forced Dahomey to pay an annual tribute until 1818. However, until well into the 19th cent. Dahomey continued to expand northward and to sell slaves, despite efforts by Great Britain to end the trade.

Colonial History

In 1863, Porto-Novo accepted a French protectorate, hoping thereby to offset Dahomey's power. During the 1880s, as the scramble among the European powers for African colonies accelerated, France tried to secure its hold on the Dahomey coast in order to keep it out of German or British hands. King Behanzin (reigned 1889–93) attempted to resist the French advance, but in 1892–93 France defeated Dahomey, established a protectorate over it, and exiled Behanzin to Martinique. During the period 1895–98 the French added the northern part of present-day Benin, and in 1904 the whole colony was made part of French West AfricaFrench West Africa,
former federation of eight French overseas territories. The constituent territories were Dahomey (now Benin), French Guinea (now Guinea), French Sudan (now Mali), Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).
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Under the French a port was constructed at Cotonou, railroads were built, and the output of palm products increased. In addition, elementary school facilities were expanded, largely under the auspices of Roman Catholic missions. In 1946, Dahomey became an overseas territory with its own parliament and representation in the French national assembly; in 1958, it became an autonomous state within the French CommunityFrench Community,
established in 1958 by the constitution of the Fifth French Republic to replace the French Union. Its members consisted of the French Republic, which included metropolitan France (continental France, Corsica, Algeria and the Sahara), the overseas territories
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The Postcolonial Period

On Aug. 1, 1960, Dahomey became fully independent. The country's first president was Hubert Maga, whose main support came from Parakou and the north and who was allied with Sourou Migan Apithy, a politician from Porto-Novo. Independent Dahomey was plagued by governmental instability that was caused by economic troubles, ethnic rivalries, and social unrest. In 1963, following demonstrations by workers and students, the armed forces staged a successful coup, putting Justin Ahomadegbé into power (in alliance with Apithy). Political unrest continued in Dahomey for the next six years until Lt. Col. Paul-Émile de Souza was made president in 1969.

Elections were attempted in 1970 but were canceled following severe disagreement between northern and southern politicians. Instead, a three-man presidential council (consisting of Maga, Ahomadegbé, and Apithy) was formed; each member was to lead the country for two years. The first leader was Maga, who in May, 1972, was replaced without incident by Ahomadegbé. However, in Oct., 1972, the military again intervened, toppling Ahomadegbé and installing an 11-man government headed by Lt. Col. Mathieu KérékouKérékou, Mathieu
, 1933–2015, Beninois military and political leader, b. French Dahomey (now Benin). Serving in the military, he participated the 1967 coup and became chairman of the Military Revolutionary Council.
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Kérékou declared Benin a Marxist-Leninist state and sought financial support from Communist governments in Eastern Europe and Asia. To distance the modern state from its colonial past, Dahomey became the People's Republic of Benin in 1975. Continual strikes and coup attempts resulted in the formation of a repressive militia. In 1989, with social unrest and economic problems besetting the country, Marxism was renounced as a state ideology.

In 1990 a national conference and a referendum provided for a new constitution and multiparty elections; Nicéphor Soglo defeated Kérékou at the polls and became president in 1991. Credited with reviving the economy but criticized as aloof and distant from the people, Soglo was defeated in the 1996 presidential election, which returned Kérékou to power. In the 1999 assembly elections, however, the opposition, led by Soglo's wife, Rosine, won the majority of seats. Conflict with Niger over the ownership of one of several disputed islands in the Niger River led to tensions in 2000; the islands were divided between the two nations in 2005 after international arbitration.

Kérékou was reelected in Mar., 2001, after Soglo withdrew from a runoff, accusing the president of fraud. The president's coalition won a majority in the national assembly in Mar., 2003. In 2005 Kérékou announced that he would retire in 2006 at the end of his term, and would not seek to amended the constitution to stay in power. In Mar., 2006, Thomas Yayi Boni, an economist who had previously headed the West African Development Bank, was elected president after a runoff, winning nearly 75% of the vote. In June, 2006, the national assembly voted to amend the constitution to extend assembly members' terms to five years, but the supreme court rejected the amendment as for violating the 1990 consensus that established the constitution. President Yayi survived an apparent assassination attempt in Mar., 2007. Yayi's coalition won a plurality of the seats in the national assembly in the elections later that month.

In July, 2010, the collapse of a company that was running a Ponzi scheme roiled the country. Some 130,000 were believed to have invested in it, many with their life savings. The interior minister and the chief prosecutor were dismissed for connections to the scheme, and many believed that the president was involved because photographs of him meeting with company officials were publicized by the company. National Assembly members accused Yayi of complicity in the scheme, but failed in an attempt (August) to impeach him. He won reelection in Mar., 2011, against a divided opposition. In Oct., 2012, several people, including a former commerce minister, were accused of attempting to assassinating the president with poison and arrested, and in Mar., 2013, another coup plot, said to be linked possibly to the poisoning plot, was reported to have been foiled. In the Apr., 2015, national assembly elections, Yayi's coalition won the same number of seats as the opposition alliance (and lost seats compared to 2007). Benin agreed to join (2015) with Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger in a joint military force to combat the Islamist militant group Boko HaramBoko Haram
[Western education is sinful], Nigerian Islamic fundamentalist militia, officially Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad [people committed to the propagation of the Prophet's teachings and jihad]. It arose (c.
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, but disagreements stalled the force's creation.


See W. J. Argyle, The Fon of Dahomey (1966); I. A. Akinjogbin, Dahomey and Its Neighbours, 1708–1818 (1967); P. Manning, Slavery, Colonialism and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960 (1982); S. Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Benin (2d ed. 1987); C. Allen and M. Radu, Benin and the Congo (1988).

Benin, city and former kingdom, Nigeria


(bĕnēn`), city (1991 est. pop. 203,000), S Nigeria, a port on the Benin River. Palm nuts and timber are produced nearby and processed in Benin, which is the center of Nigeria's rubber industry. Furniture and carpets are also made. The Univ. of Benin (1970; formerly the Institute of Higher Studies of Benin) is there.

Benin was the capital of the kingdom of

Benin, which was probably founded in the 13th cent. and flourished from the 14th through the 17th cent. The kingdom was ruled by the Oba and a sophisticated bureaucracy. From the late 15th cent. Benin traded slaves as well as ivory, pepper, and cloth to Europeans. In the early 16th cent. the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent missionaries to Benin. The kingdom of Benin declined after 1700, but revived in the 19th cent. with the development of the trade in palm products with Europeans.

Britain conquered and burned the city in 1897, destroying much of the country's treasured art and dispersing nearly all that remained. The portrait figures, busts, and groups created in iron, carved ivory, and brass (long thought to be bronze) made in Benin beginning perhaps as early as the 13th cent. rank with the finest art of Africa. Cire perduecire perdue
[Fr.,=lost wax], sculptural process of metal casting that may be used for hollow and solid casting. The sculptor makes a model in plaster or clay that is then coated with wax. This model is then covered with a perforated plaster or clay mold.
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 casting is still practiced there. Examples of Benin art are displayed in museums in the city.



(local name Edo), a state that existed until the end of the 19th century in the southern part of Nigeria. The name “Benin” was given by the Portuguese, who first arrived there in the last third of the 15th century. The name is evidently associated with the name of the local population, the Bini (Edo language group).

The Benin state flourished in the 13th to 15th centuries; it later declined as a result of internecine warfare. Slavery was significantly developed. In governing the country, the ruler shared power with his mother and the most important high officials. The history of Benin is closely associated with the history of the Yoruba states. It is assumed that originally (before the 13th century and perhaps later) Benin was dependent on Ife, the main Yoruba state. In the course of the British subjugation of Nigeria, which began in the mid-19th century, the British colonizers bombed, looted, and burned the capital of Benin (1897). The territory of Benin was included in the English colony of Nigeria (since 1960, the independent Federation of Nigeria; since 1963, the Federal Republic of Nigeria).

Great monuments of the artistic culture of ancient Benin have been preserved; this culture represents a branch of the even more ancient Yoruba culture. The flowering of Benin art took place in the 15th to 17th centuries, when bronze casting from wax models reached a high level. Earlier specimens (until the end of the 16th century)—including busts of the king and his retinue, statues of nobles, hunters, and warriors, and figures of animals and birds—were executed in a realistic or somewhat stylized (but convincing) manner. They are distinguished by their subtle execution and soft texture, which leads some investigators to consider these works influenced by Ife art. The sculpture of later times (including the bronze relief plaques depicting court ceremonies, hunting scenes, and sacrificial rites on a background of flowered ornamentation) has characteristics of sketchiness and stylization. Hanging masks and goblets and reliefs on elephant tusks are graceful and masterfully carved in ivory. The capital of Benin (Benin City), with the royal palace and houses made of red earth with open galleries and roofs of palm leaves, is known from descriptions.


Svanidze, I. A. “Korolevstvo Benin: Istoriia, ekonomika, sotsial’nye otnosheniia.” In Nekotorye voprosy istorii stran Afriki. Moscow, 1968.
Sharevskaia, B. I. “Religiia drevnego Benina.” In Ezhegodnik muzeia istorii religii i ateizma, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Ol’derogge, D. A. “Drevnosti Benina,” parts [1]-3. In Sbornik Muzeia antropologii i etnografii, vols. 15–17. Moscow-Leningrad, 1953–57.
Forman, W., and B. P. Dark. Die Kunst von Benin. Prague [1960].

D. A. OL’DEROGGE (history) and IU. D. LEBEDEV (art)



a city in southern Nigeria; administrative center of the Mid-Western State. Population, 100,700 (1963). Benin is a trade and transport center and highway junction. There is trade in palm kernels and palm oil, cocoa, kola nuts, and precious woods and production of handcrafted goods. Ancient Benin (Great Benin) was the capital of the state of Benin.


Official name: Republic of Benin

Capital city: Porto-Novo is official capital city; Cotonou is the seat of government

Internet country code: .bj

Flag description: Two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red (bottom) with a vertical green band on the hoist side

National anthem: “L’Aube Nouvelle” (The New Dawn)

National motto: “Fraternité - Justice - Travail”

Geographical description: Western Africa, bordering the Bight of Benin, between Nigeria and Togo

Total area: 43,483 sq. mi. (116,622 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north

Nationality: noun: Beninese (singular and plural); adjective: Beninese

Population: 8,078,314 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Fon and related groups 39.2%, Adja and related groups 15.2%, Yoruba and related groups 12.3%, Bariba and related groups 9.2%, Peulh and related groups 7%, Ottamari and related groups 6.1%, Yoa-Lokpa and related groups 4%, Dendi and related groups 2.5%, other (including Europeans) 1.6%, unspecified 2.9%

Languages spoken: French (official), Fon and Yoruba pre­dominant in the south, Nagot, Bariba, Dendi and other tribal languages in the north

Religions: Roman Catholic 27.1%, Muslim 24.4%, Vodun (Voodoo) 17.3%, Celestial Christian 5%, Methodist 3.2 %, other Christian 7.5%, other traditional local religious groups 6%, other religious groups 1.9%, and none 6.5%

Legal Holidays:

All Saints' DayNov 1
Assumption DayAug 15
ChristmasDec 25
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Independence DayAug 1
Labor DayMay 1
National Vodoun DayJan 10
New Year's DayJan 1


1. a republic in W Africa, on the Bight of Benin, a section of the Gulf of Guinea: in the early 19th century a powerful kingdom, famed for its women warriors; became a French colony in 1893, gaining independence in 1960. It consists chiefly of coastal lagoons and swamps in the south, a fertile plain and marshes in the centre, and the Atakora Mountains in the northwest. Official language: French. Religion: animist majority. Currency: franc. Capital: Porto Novo (the government is based in Cotonou). Pop.: 6 918 000 (2004 est.). Area: 112 622 sq. km (43 474 sq. miles)
2. a former kingdom of W Africa, powerful from the 14th to the 17th centuries: now a province of S Nigeria: noted for its bronzes
References in periodicals archive ?
Recently, Assistant Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Peterson and her husband found themselves in a morning embassy caravan to a beach, where she and other mission volunteers joined hundreds of young Beninese who had answered a mass text from the embassy, announcing a first annual beach cleanup.
Koucoi, who now lives in the rural central Beninese town of Savalou and returns to the U.
Salehi is on an official day-long visit at the invitation of his Beninese counterpart Nassirou Bako.
When interviewed by 20/20, a high-level Peace Corps official declined to comment about the events leading up to Puzey's death, and on whether the agency bears some culpability, deferring instead to the unfinished Beninese investigation.
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Foreign Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, received, here Friday, Flix Tissou Hessou, Beninese Interior Minister and special envoy from president Thomas Yayi Boni, who handed the FM a message from president Boni to king Mohammed VI.
The inclusion of Swiss harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret and Beninese guitarist/singer Lionel Loueke added fresh sounds and eclectic influences.
The four-time Grammy-nominated singer, composer, and performer began in the Beninese port village of Cotonou where she launched her career at the age of six.
The four-time Grammy-nominated, now Grammy winner, much-celebrated singer, composer, and performer began in the Beninese port village of Cotonou, where she launched her career at the age of six.
Of Beninese descent, Govou has been with champions Lyon his entire career after coming up through the ranks.
A multivariate analysis revealed that correct use of active management (using the Cochrane definition) was often less common in lower-level facilities than in national referral hospitals; the odds of correct use were particularly low in Beninese health centers (odds ratio, 0.
The Beninese had neglected to post a guard on the hospital room of our wounded communicator, so we were able to take him out of the hospital and to Lagos before they realized what had happened.