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#81 Ganvié, the “Venice of Africa,” Haven from Slavery–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

“The Adriatic has its Venice and its gondolas,
The Atlantic has its Ganvié, so much envied.
I will praise you everywhere, Ganvié,
Venice of my country, you will soon be
The center of the world, and men from all horizons
Will be dying to come and dream on your waters,
Around your magic and haughty huts,
Amid your slender and light canoes”

by Eustache Prudencio

Overhead view of Gavnie. Click for source.

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.

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