Ganvié, Benin : The Venice of Africa The Water People of Nokoue Lake A Field Producers's Reconnaissance photos of Ganvié
Ganvié is a lake village on stilts in Benin, Africa, in Lake Nokoué, near Cotonou. With a population of approximately 20,000 people, it is probably the largest lake village in Africa and is very popular with tourists.
The village was created in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries by the Tofinu people who took to the lake to avoid Fon warriors from the Kingdom of Dahomey, (often reffered to as the Kingdom of Abomey : the name of it's capital city. The Fon warriors were capturing other ethnic groups to sell as slaves to European traders, often in exchange for weapons. The shallow waters and islands of Lake Nokoue are something of a haven as many Africans cannot swim.
The people of the capital, Cotonou often say that the people of Ganvié "are not men, but fish", because everybody can swim. The Ganvié villagers are often referred to as "water men" and the area itself is often referred to as the "Venice of Africa".
Today, 500 years have passed since the Tofinu people sought refuge in the lake, and Ganvie is now a fully functioning town based on fish farming. The village has its own shops, church, mosque, restaurants, hospital, hotels, etc. All of these buildings were built on stilts in the water. Only the school and the cemetery were built on solid ground. The soil needed in order to do so was brought on boats by the villagers.
The village's main industries other than tourism are fishing and fish farming. The only means of transportation to and from the village, indeed inside the village is with wooden boats; even the very young are very comfortable navigating from place to place alone in boats.