BENIN – BENIN – BÉNIN

 

Porodica na motociklu-A family on a motorbike

Porodica na motociklu-A family on a motorbike

Prodavacica ribe kraj puta-Selling fish by the road

Prodavacica ribe kraj puta-Selling fish by the road

Prodavacice manga-Mango vendors

Prodavacice manga-Mango vendors

Prodavnica sesira-A hat store

Prodavnica sesira-A hat store

Pusta plaza-A deserted beach

Pusta plaza-A deserted beach

Savremene Amazonke-Modern Dahomey Amazons

Savremene Amazonke-Modern Dahomey Amazons

Seoska lepotica-A local beauty

Seoska lepotica-A local beauty

Ulicni prodavci-Street vendors

Ulicni prodavci-Street vendors

Vudu igracice - Voodoo dancers

Vudu igracice – Voodoo dancers

Vudu igracice-Voodoo dancers

Vudu igracice-Voodoo dancers

Za cistu i zdravu Afriku-For a clean and healthy Africa

Za cistu i zdravu Afriku-For a clean and healthy Africa

Centralna dzamija u Kotonuu-The Central Mosque of Zongo in Cotonou

Centralna dzamija u Kotonuu-The Central Mosque of Zongo in Cotonou

Granicni prelaz-A border pass

Granicni prelaz-A border pass

Izmedju Benina i Togoa-Between Benin and Togo

Izmedju Benina i Togoa-Between Benin and Togo

Pokrajine Benina-Benin districts

Pokrajine Benina-Benin districts

Nekada davno ovo je bila Kraljevina Dahomej, jedna od najmoćnih imperija
afričkog kontinenta. Ostala je neslavna po tome što je pomagala trgovinu
robljem, a lokalni kraljevi su oružjem, koje bi dobili od belaca u zamenu za
robove, osvajali nove teritorije. Ti robovi su bili ratni zarobljenici, koje
su galije odvozile na put bez povratka, na plantaže šećerne trske u Novom
svetu: Brazil, karipska ostrva i najčešće na Haiti. Zato je obala ove
zemlje, zajedno sa delovima obala susednih zemalja, dobila nesrećno ime
Obala robova. Trgovina robovima nesmetano se vekovima odvijala i sa susedne
Zlatne obale (današnja Gana) i Obale slonovače.
Revolucionarna vremena donela su ovoj zemlji, pored nesvrstanosti, i novo
ime – Benin. Ona ima oblik uspravne kobre, koja se nadvila nad istoimenim
Beninskim zalivom, tanušne i vertikalno sabijene među susednim zemljama
zapadne Afrike, a to su velika Nigerija istočno i mali Togo zapadno.
Pokušavam da razaznam njihov francuski, ali ne uspevam; mislim da i sami
Francuzi imaju poteškoća. Ali, već mi je lepše čim sam sam se našao izvan
opasne i nesigurne Nigerije. Narod je ovde siromašniji, ali mi se čini
znatno pristupačnijim. Ulazak u najveći grad, Kotonu (glavni grad je Porto
Novo i nalazi se veoma blizu), skoro je neprimetan, jer je cela obala gusto
naseljena. Žurno fotografišem sve oko sebe, šarenilo i živost koje izbijaju
iz koliba kraj puta, koje bi čak i slabašni vetar daleko odneo. Sve je u
njima smešteno, od kafanica, do frizerskih salona, od prodavnica svega što
vam ne treba, do klanica nekih dugodlakih jarića, najlepših koje sam ikada
video. Brojni ribari popravljaju svoje pokidane mreže, dok se u pletenim
korpama praćakaju ribe koje žene nose i prodaju na pijaci.
Moj hotel “Marina” odiše duhom socijalizma afričkog tipa sedamdesetih godina
i to mi se dopada. Spratni čuvar me već oslovljava sa monsieur docteur  i
priča o našim pilotima, koji su tu stanovali.
Sudeći prema zapisima poznate svetske putnice i dobrog poznavaoca Afrike,
Sonje Lapatanov, Benin pruža mnogo više od toga: vudu rituale, koji su
odavde preneseni na Haiti i kojima je prisustvovala, jezero Nokue, sa
najvećim selom na stubovima, koje još nazivaju Venecijom Afrike, Abomej, sa
hramovima oslikanim vudu fetišima. Čak je upoznala lokalne kraljeve, koji su
neposredni potomci beninskih kraljeva iz daleke prošlosti.
Ne želim da mi se na kraju pokvari opšti utisak, jer se na aerodromu svima
mora dati poneki CEF (centralnoafrički franak), koji je zajednička valuta
frankofonskih zemalja zapadne Afrike: i policajcu na graničnom prelazu da bi
stavio pečat u pasoš, i cariniku, bar “za koka-kolu”. Možda ne pije kafu.
Ne bi, međutim, trebalo gubiti volju: Afrika se mora prihvatiti i kao takva,
što je ponekad svojstveno i nekim drugim zemljama van ovog kontinenta.

Jul 2008.
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Once upon a time this was the most powerful country on the African
continent, called the Kingdom of Dahomey. It kept its infamous reputation
because it had promoted the slave trade – in exchange for slaves, the local
kings would get arms from the white people, which in turn helped them
conquer new territories. The slaves were prisoners of war, taken in galleons
on journeys with no return, usually to sugarcane plantations in the New
World: Brazil, the Caribbean and most often Haiti. That was why Benin’s
coast, as well as parts of the surrounding countries’ coast, was
unfortunately named The Slave Coast. The slave trade flourished unhindered
on The Golden Coast (today’s Ghana) and on The Ivory Coast too.
Revolutionary period brought this country into the Non-Aligned movement and
got it a new name – Benin. On the map Benin appears like a cobra looming
above the Bight of Benin (Benin Bay), a thin strip of land wedged between
the neighbouring West African countries, the huge Nigeria to the East and
the tiny Togo to the West.
The French language spoken in Benin was very hard to understand, even though
I was trying my best; I was not convinced that the French themselves could
understand it. But I already feel better once I have left the unsafe and
dangerous Nigeria. The people here are a lot worse off, but far less spoilt.
I barely noticed when we entered the biggest city, Cotonou (the capital is
Porto-Novo, close to it), because the entire coast is so densely populated.
I hastily took pictures of everything, taking in the colourful charm and
liveliness of the roadside wooden huts, which seemed as fragile as though
they could be blown away by a light breeze. Multi-purpose as they were, they
housed everything from cafés to hair salons, from shops selling everything
you did not need to slaughterhouses full of long-haired baby goats – the
cutest I have ever seen. Many fishermen fix their broken nets while women
carry baskets full of still live, jerking fish to sell at the market.
My hotel called ‘Marina’ was built in the 1970s style of the African
socialist realism and I liked it. The concierge, keeping a watchful eye on
my floor, already addressed me as monsieur docteur and started telling me
about Serbian pilots who had lived there.
Judging by the notes of Sonja Lapatanov, a world traveller and Africa
expert, Benin had a lot more to offer: Vodun rituals she has witnessed, that
had been transferred to Haiti as Voodoo, Lake Nokoué with the largest stilt
village – called the African Venice and Abomey with places of worship
painted with Voodoo motives. Sonja has even met the local royals who were
direct descendents from the ancient Kings of Benin.
I did not want the impression of this country to be spoiled – at the airport
you were expected to give at least one CFA-Central African Franc to each
person you dealt with (common currency of the Francophone West Africa) – to
the immigration officer so that he could stamp your passport, to the customs
officer -‘at least for one coke’. Maybe he did not drink coffee.
However, I did not let this bring me down: Africa should be accepted as it
is, much like other countries outside this continent.

July 2008

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