Ethnic multiplicity is an indisputable source of cultural wealth for the country. The imprint of history marks more specifically certain communities, like the Brazilian Creole descendants who, returning to Africa, reported a specific architectural style that makes the mosque of Porto-Novo a replica of a church Of Salvador do Bahia. Just as oral traditions are deeply rooted in popular culture (the Guèlèdè, a major oral genre in Benin, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), religious beliefs and practices permeate the daily life of the Beninese. The diversity of religions testifies to the pluralistic character of society in which Christian, Muslim and animist populations coexist.
The population is over 9 million and population growth remains high. The fertility rate is 5.4 children per woman of childbearing age. The population of Benin is therefore very young, 45% of the population is under 15 years!
Most important cities are located in the south and along the coast. Cotonou is the largest city with 800,000 inhabitants, it is often called the economic capital. Porto-Novo, the capital of the country, has about 250,000 inhabitants. It is followed by Parakou (200 000 hts), Djougou, Nattitingou, Abomey, Kandi, Lokossa, Ouidah ... More than half of the population lives on only 15% of the Beninese territory: the departments of the South.
With its 46 ethnic groups, Benin presents a great cultural diversity. However, the population is grouped around three main ethnic groups: adja-fon, yoruba and bariba. But the history of Benin was also built of mixed race: the Yoruba mingled with the Adja gave birth to the Gun which is predominantly in Porto-Novo, in the department of Ouémé-Plateaux. Other societies, on the other hand, remain isolated, like the Fulani or the Betammaribe.
The city of Tado, in present-day Togo, is the cradle of the peoples of the south of Benin of adja origin.
The migration of these peoples is associated with a legend that the daughter of King Tado met one day a harmless panther (emblem of Benin), which gave him, a few months later, a son named Agasu. Brought up in the court of the kingdom, he later became the father of many children. One of them, Adjahuto, killed the crown prince and fled with Agasu's skull and spear to Allada, where he founded his kingdom. His sons also became kings: Meidji reigned over Allada, Zozérigbé over Porto-Novo and Do-Aklin over the Bohicon region. The latter's nephew, Houégbadja, created the kingdom of Abomey. Their descendants are the Adja, Xwla, Hueda, Ayizo, Mahi and Gun. But the most important branch, related to the Adja, is that of Fon, the origin of the powerful kingdom of Abomey.
The Fon represent 39.2% of the Beninese population. The importance of this ethnic group is such that the fon tong is understood to the north of the country.
The Yoruba, or Nago, occupy the southeast and the center of the country. Originally from Nigeria, the Yoruba have a long history in Benin. It is said that Odudua, a mythical ancestor who founded the city of Ife in Nigeria, sent his sons to found new kingdoms. The descendants of the kingdom of Ife thus created the kingdoms of Savé and Ketou. The Yoruba constitute 12.3 per cent of the population and are concentrated in the south-east and central-east of the country. Most are traders and dominate the Dantokpa market in Cotonou (one of the largest markets in West Africa). The Nago, who are located further north of Porto-Novo, are mainly engaged in agriculture. Finally, the Afro-Brazilians, descendants of former freed slaves who have returned from Brazil, are also of Yoruba origin, and distinguished in the past by their good education.
Coming from Busa, Nigeria, bariba riders have invaded Borgou about 500 years ago. Their leader was Sounon Séro, and one of his descendants, Serovy Sykia, founded the town of Nikki, which became the center of a powerful feudal kingdom uniting the kingdoms of Kouandé, Parakou and Kandi.
The Bariba are mainly present in Borgou, in the northeast of the country, and constitute 9.2% of the Beninese population. They are differentiated according to their social affiliation:
The Wassangari: the aristocracy of the horsemen from Busa.
The Gando: formerly slaves, they became farmers or craftsmen.
Commoners: growers or craftsmen descended from pre-existing populations.
Unlike the Yoruba and Adja conquered mostly evangelized, the bariba still practice a traditional religion based on spirits of ancestors and geniuses. However, they are increasingly permeable to Islam, as evidenced by the increasing number of mosques in northeastern Benin.
Also known as Fulbe and Fulanis, the Fulani have been the subject of much research on their origins. Disseminated throughout West Africa, this pastoralist population is probably derived from the populations that inhabited the Sahara during the Neolithic period and who painted the frescoes of Tassili.
Nomads and breeders of cattle, some were Islamized (Black Peuls), others retained their traditional beliefs (Red Peuls). In Benin, the Fulani cohabit harmoniously with the sedentary peoples and meet mainly in the north of the country, grazing their herds of cows in the valley of the Niger River. They represent 7% of the population. Every year, at the end of the rainy season, the entire community meets in Kandi to celebrate the Gereol festival.
Cattle are their main source of wealth. They accumulate it in anticipation of drought, dowry and traditional exchanges. They exchange milk for millet or manufactured goods.
Other ethnic groups
We should also mention the Betammaribè, known as Somba, which represents 6.9% of the population and have lived in the Atakora for several generations. Their ancestors had taken refuge in the mountains to escape the Bariba horsemen and the slavery raids of the kingdom of Abomey.
The Berba, the Yowa from Togo, and the Gulmaceba from Burkina Faso joined the group.
There are also in the northwest the Dendi who left Mali down the Niger River in the sixteenth century.
Finally, in the south, we find the Mina (2.8% of the population), originating in Ghana and inhabiting the Grand-Popo region.