Malanville: Africa par Excellence

by Piotr Buraczewski January. 29, 2021 770 views

"We are leaving in fourteen minutes", the bus driver says. Yeah, right, and Queen Elizabeth II will serve us tea. I come back to the station twenty minutes later. The bus left... six minutes ago. I am stunned: schedules exist in the Sahel. Welcome to the Republic of Benin.

At around 113,000 sq. km (43,600 sq. mi.) Benin is roughly the size of Bulgaria or the state of Pensylvania. Its tropical south where most of Beninese live is in stark contract to semi-arid sparsely populated north. The powerful Kingdom of Dahomey existed here from the 17th century with slave trade as one of the pillars of its economy. Seized by the French in the 19th century, it gained independence in 1960 as many other African countries.

Neat yellow Russian-made minibuses ply the roads of Benin. It is a reminder of a romance the former French colony had with the Soviet Union and its allies. Back in the 1970s, Dahomey (as it was then called) decided to implant marxism-leninism. Socialism and prosperity would flourish from the Bay of Guinea to the Sahel. They named the country after the powerful Kingdom of Benin that once existed in current Nigeria and that was it. Marx and Lenin went bust as soon as Eastern Europe closed the tap with money around 1990.

Malanville is in the northeast of Benin, at the border with Niger. It is a fascinating place with a unique mix of ethnicities and cultures. And so, after quite a tedious journey, I arrive there in the evening and drop off to sleep at the nearest guest house. The next morning a guy with a smile to die for serves me an omelette and a cup of tea. I am ready to explore the town.

As I walk along a dusty street of Malanville, I come across a small Roman Catholic chapel. Gentle music and chants fill the air around it. About fifty per cent of the Beninese are Christians of different denominations. Muslims and the practitioners of Vodoun or Orisha (that derive from traditional African belief systems) comprise the remaining half of the population. With intermarriage between diverse ethnic groups in Benin, it is not uncommon for the members of one family to practice different religions.

While Muslims comprise less than thirty per cent of the population of the Republic of Benin, Islam is the predominant religion in the north of the country. It was brought by the Hausa people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, from the north. Traditionally, Islam coexists peacefully with other belief systems. Many nominal Muslims practice Vodoun and other traditional African beliefs. They also do not mind drinking beer in a small open air restaurant just outside the local mosque.

Moneychangers, tailors, fortune tellers, you meet them in the streets of many towns and villages in West Africa. However, a professional photographer is a rarity. This charming elderly man sits in front of his former photo studio close to Malanville market. He ran a successful business in the past but the good times are over. Nowadays everyone has a camera in a mobile phone. This does not prevent him from delighting passers-by with his smile, though.

Two funny if not a bit sassy boys accompany me at the local market. We become friends in a jiffy. They are keen to check every feature of my camera and laugh a lot as they try to learn Polish tongue twisters. Other children follow us the whole afternoon. In the evening we set up a cinema using my mobile beamer (that I usually travel with) and the white wall of a mosque which serves a a screen. Watching old cartoons under the African sky - priceless.

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There are 22 comments , add yours!
Steveandjustyna Nomads 7 months, 1 week ago

Fantastyczny reportaż. Historia Beninu w pigułce, a na dodatek niesamowite zdjęcia mieszkańców tego raczej nieznanego kraju. Jak zwykle Twoje portrety doskonale "oddają" duszę tych wszystkich pieknych osób, które spotkałeś na swojej drodze. Afryka nie wydaje się już taka "straszna" dzięki Twojemu blogowi! Dzięki wielkie Piotrze!!!

7 months, 1 week ago Edited
Krystyna Knypl 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Bardzo piękny reportaż! Gratulacje!

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Krystyna Knypl 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Serdecznie dziękuję. Cieszę się, że podobają się Pani moje fotografie i bazgrołki.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
John Durham 8 months ago

Thanks for a great tour!

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to John Durham 7 months, 4 weeks ago

My pleasure, John. The world is fascinating and even during the pandemic, when our moves are limited, we can see beauty at our doorstep.

7 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Chuck Staruch 8 months ago

Delightful!  I feel the adventure.smilecamera

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Chuck Staruch 7 months, 4 weeks ago

Yeaaaaah!  Just two weeks in Togo and Benin but what an Adventure. It really exceeded my expectations.

7 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Dawn Hester 8 months ago

Great documentation! Seems like everyone welcomed you with a big smile. Thanks for sharing.

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Dawn Hester 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks, Dawn. True, people are smiley and very curious about visitors there. Apart from a couple of spots such as Senegal, The Gambia or Ghana, most of West Africa is out of the beaten track.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Rachele Schneekloth 8 months ago

Amazing photos. I am especially entranced by #6. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Rachele Schneekloth 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you so much, Rachele. The two girls were very gracious and friendly. The colours and patterns of their dresses and shawls were a dream.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Nancy Andrea D 8 months ago

Fantastic, just fantastic!!

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Nancy Andrea D 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you, Nancy. The people make West Africa one of the most enchanting places in the world.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Brian Scott 8 months ago

Thank you, great photos and info +1

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Brian Scott 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you very much, Brian. I wish I could make an African photo evening once.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Brian Scott Replied to Piotr Buraczewski 7 months, 3 weeks ago


7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 8 months ago

I love traveling with you. What gorgeous faces and you have captured their beauty.

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Camellia Staab 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you very much, Camellia. The people in West Africa are diverse, friendly and stunningly beautiful. It will take some time for covid to ease up. As soon as it happens, I will continue travelling.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Leon Linder 8 months ago

Thanks for letting us travel with you. Really good stuff.

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Leon Linder 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi Leon,

My pleasure. I just love travelling, meeting and photographing people. West Africa, although not the easiest to travel around is one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived and drove around. I would rate India my second best... and probably number one when it comes to the ease of getting there and moving around.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Benny Law 8 months ago

Great photos and stories as always. 👍 I miss travelling so much.

8 months ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Benny Law 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you, Benny. I do miss travelling and cannot wait for the pandemic to ease up. I am afraid it will keep us home or close to home for at least another year. There is an advantage, though: we can savout the beauty at our doorsteps.

7 months, 3 weeks ago Edited