Market day on Lake Nakoue

Discovering Benin - People

The country is as colourful and vibrant in its ethnic diversity as it is in its music, art and dance.

Among the 6.5 million population of Benin, there are more than 20 different ethnic groups living in general harmony, each with a distinct language, history and traditions. Benin remains extraordinarily diverse, with the population divided unevenly between a Christian majority and a Muslim minority, overlaid by an intermingling of traditional worship and custom. Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.

The official language is French. However, many ethnic groups have their own languages: Bariba and Fulani are spoken in the north, Fon and Yoruba in the south. Some English is also spoken.

Normal courtesies are appreciated; it is customary to shake hands on arrival and departure.

On the whole Benin is a safe and ordered destination with great care being taken to conserve and protect the country’s tourism industry.