Benin is located in West Africa which is officially known as the Republic of Benin. The total area of this country is almost 114,763 km2 and the estimated population is around 10,323,000. Benin was previously called as Dahomey which was actually due to the former Kingdom of Dahomey, which covered only most of the southern third of the present country. Benin gained independence from France on 11 July 1960.
Geographically, Benin is a narrow, north–south strip of land in West Africa which lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin’s climate is hot and humid and it has two rainy and two dry seasons per year. The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. The majority of Benin’s population lives in the south. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country. Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.
To have a nice understanding about the culture and traditions of Benin, we should have the knowledge about the religious influences that prevail in the country. Majority is Christians and the Muslims are also found in significant numbers. Likewise, the government of Benin also recognizes the traditional Voodoo religion. Benin is actually the birthplace of the Voodoo religion. The religious typical practice as dancing around the Voodoo spirit is particularly known to the world.
This small portion mentioned in the above paragraphs was important for deliberating the traditional dress of Benin. Generally, the urban people of Benin have adopted the western clothes in their daily routine. The Beninese men and women both dress up in western outfits for their workplaces. In the offices, the men are seen wearing pants and shirts while some executives prefer suiting. Women are also seen with jeans, shirts and t-shirts. The skirts and dresses are almost all ankle length.
But having said that, a large proportion of the Beninese population, still want to live with the traditional dresses. They not only prefer the traditional outfits on special occasions but some of them still wear in the normal life as well. The ancient excavations in Benin and other West African countries suggest that the ancient clothing in this region was based upon the indigenous fibers like raffia, bast and cotton. The textile fragments used till the medieval times were normally densely woven in plain weave. The formal attires were also adorned with openwork embroideries etc.
Today, the Beninese traditional outfits normally include the typical “Bomba” dresses which are designed as tunics and trousers for men and a loincloth and a top for women. As the majority lives in the coastal areas, the women living on the coast usually wear the colorful African pagnes embellished with stunning patterns and gorgeous artwork. Matching headscarves are also essential part of their traditional dresses. Muslim Beninese women cover their bodies with three piece clothes. One piece of cloth is used as a wrapper around the waist, one around the chest, and one covers the head. Using of veil and scarf is also common in the Muslim women in Benin.
The traditional dress for Beninese men is loose, long and is having boubou –style cotton shirts over pants. In the formal versions, the embroidered boubou is also becoming popular with both men and women. This dress is prepared with lot of skilled toil and it may cost too much. In the present times, the Beninese designers have introduced fusions between traditional and modern dressing. The fabric mostly comprises of traditional cloth for making the shirts, pants and even other type of outer-garments.
The folk costumes of Benin include the West African dashiki, which is a colorful men’s garment covering the top half of the body. It has both formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. Most grooms wear white dashiki suits during wedding ceremonies. Black and red are the traditional colours of mourning. Many men wear a bowler hat with the lace dashiki suit.
Traditional dress of Benin is a prime example of the historic brilliance of Africa. It truly represents the indigenous colours and stunning Negro customs. Tourists, who pay visit to this wonderful country of Africa, fascinate themselves by participating in the folk and conventional festivities where the Beninese performers dress up the colorful traditional costumes.
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