Visiting Ganvie Lake Village Benin. I sauntered onto the dock, which edged out into the lake. A sharp sun beat down on me despite the morning hour. A series of staircases met a multitude of pirogues that bobbed in the water, which magically hovered just above the waterline. The pirogues were filled with wares, coming and going. Fish coming in from the village on stilts and everything else that a town of 20,000 required heading out.
Ganvie was founded in either the 16th or 17th century as the natives of present-day Benin moved to the lake to avoid slavers. These were the Tofinu people who were avoiding the Fon tribesmen who were trading slaves with the Europeans. In reality, the lake provided minimum impediments to the Fon, but the tribesmen’s religious practices forbid raids dwelling on water. This provided the catalyst for this community on the lake.
Check out this great overview of Benin.
A unique culture developed for generations on Lake Nokoue. Ganvie is a fully functional town built on stilts. The town is multi-denominational with churches, mosques, and voodoo temples. There are hotels, restaurants, shops, and schools. And vibrant markets. Today, there are over 3,000 structures that comprise this town.
I proceeded down the staircase on the dock and positioned myself in my waiting blue and white boat, thankfully covered by canvas. My guide was one of the chiefs of the village who was clad in a matching green, shirt-pant combo.
We motored over the lake watching life pass by. Pirogues ambled by, heading to the market on land, being powered by paddle. Their trip took an hour compared to our 15 minutes. Fishermen handled their nets plucking fish from the waters. And fish farms were constructed, surrounded by wispy reed fences.
Our boat cruised down one of the main water avenues in the village of Ganvie. And we docked at one of Ganvie’s hotel, and I hopped onto the deck of the hotel. I leaned against the railing with my camera at the ready. I took in the scene of front of me. Scores of pirogues mostly manned by women, and many of them covered by expansive woven hats. The hats protected them from the fierce sun and played a second role of modesty. The locals had a strong animosity to being captured by the camera. The villagers upon sensing a lens would often cover their face with their hat.
Fresh water is always a challenge. A handful of wells are drilled into the lake’s bottom. Boats pull up to Ganvie’s wells like petrol stations. A hose pumps out water into waiting jugs and buckets. Customers pay for the water based upon their consumption.
The boat floated by an expensive white plastered wall with a light blue trim. A larger boat was docked at the edge of the church stuffed was a multitude of parishioners donned in white. A priest stood before them shouting his sermon.
And within moments, the boat loaded with the parishioners, sped down the water avenue, singing as they left the church.
We then docked at a second hotel, and I sipped a chilly coke.
My waitress at the floating hotel
Speaking with the Chief, I enquired if I could make a donation to the village what would allow me to fly my drone. I negotiated a 3,000 CFA contribution. The drone shot straight up, and I had a bird’s eye view of the town of Ganvie. The village slid into the horizon, meeting white puffy clouds. Upon seeing the fantastic photos, the chief demanded an extra 2,000 CFA.
Ganvie is only an hour drive from Cotonou, Benin’s biggest city. There is a dirt parking lot next to the dock. Boats waiting at the dock will bring you to Ganvie. The tour cost 5,000 CFA per person and then another 5,000 CFA for the guide. The tour will last approximately two hours.
Saying farewell to fascinating Ganvie
Visiting Ganvie Lake Village Benin