Ganvié, the “Venice of Africa”

I have a new essay up on Beyond Victoriana looking into the history of Ganvié, a village built entirely on a lake in Benin Republic that was built by people from several ethnic groups that are now known as the Tofinu.

Ganvié is a water town situated on the northern edge of the Lake Nokoué in southern Benin. Marketed as the ‘Venice of Africa’, Ganvié is probably the most well-known and foremost among other lacustrine villages in the same region. Ganvié is a favourite among tourists to Benin with the government policy aimed at transforming the town into a major tourist attraction. As Ganvié is considered a rarity on the African continent, due to the fact that the town was built on a lake, information on socio-economic activities, the physical environment and the modern-day ecological effects of human settlements on the surrounding Lake Nokoué is readily available. Incidentally, I learnt of Ganvié from a magazine article on the impact of climate change on the region. Less information is readily available on Ganvié’s fascinating history; Ganvié was founded by people in an effort to escape captivity and enslavement in the Americas.

According to Elisée Soumonni, “little attention is paid to the ways in which local African populations resisted enslavement, giving the impression that any form of resistance began on board slave ships or in the Americas.” I believe this also fuels erroneous suggestions that all African ethnic groups were comfortable with slavery and enslavement, not knowing what they were heading to in the Americas and only revolting after their enslavement. The existence of Ganvié stands as a testament to resistance to the transatlantic slave trade within African shores.

Continue reading at Beyond Victoriana.

4 thoughts on “Ganvié, the “Venice of Africa”

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to call it rare. The Ijaw have traditionally lived mostly on water, and Maroko in Lagos is a town entirely on water itself too.

    I’m not sure why this is supposed to be special. LOTS of riverine ethnicities in Nigeria and all over the continent have lived in towns entirely on the water for centuries.

    1. Sugabelly dear, I don’t know if I’ve said this before, sometimes I wonder if you read the essays I write in their entirety (I know they are long!) I don’t recall writing that there are no villages built on water on the whole African continent, mind you were are not talking about riverine (which suggests dwelling beside a river) here, Ganvie is lacustrine (which simply means ‘of or pertaining to a lake’). It’s residents don’t live beside a body of water but on the body of water.

      Ganvié is pretty rare considering the situation behind its settlement, were the Ijaw driven to settle by the riverside due to enslaving Dahomean (or other) armies? Is that how Maroko was built? I knew of the ijaw before I wrote that essay (can’t say I know LOTS of riverine ethnicities in Nigeria though) and I remained awed by Ganvié’s history enough to write it. Ganvié’s history is interesting, so is its status as ‘the Venice of Africa’, maybe other countries are not advertising their own lacustrine villages well enough, *shrug* I never claimed to know everything.

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