Have you ever heard of a floating village of Africa? There are many floating villages all over the world, in places like Asia and West Africa. They are houses built in the middle of a lake or large body of water. The design is so effective that the houses will not wash away or collapse because the stilts raise the houses above water. This type of housing allows people to live in areas that have very little dry land available.
In Africa, floating villages are found in West Africa. Most notable are the Nzulenzu Village in Ghana, Makoko in Nigeria, and Ganvie in Benin. Ganvie is the largest floating village in Africa. It is located in southern Benin, in the middle of Lake Nokoue. It has a population of roughly 45,000 people. But more interesting than the engineering and design of Ganvie is its history.
Fleeing the Dahomey Warriors
The Tofinu people built Ganvie over 500 years ago. Before then, they lived on land. They fled to Lake Nokoue to escape the powerful Fon tribe of the Dahomey kingdom, who were capturing and selling other tribes into slavery. Believe it or not, Benin used to be called the Slave Coast of Africa. It is estimated that over 1 million Africans were captured and sold into slavery by the Dahomey kingdom in exchange for guns and other goods.
But according to legend, the mighty Fon warriors had one weakness. They believed that a demon lived in Lake Nokoue and would not go anywhere near the lake. The Tofinu people knew this and used that to their advantage. Instead of fighting the powerful army, they chose to build their homes on the sacred waters. It was a perfect plan. And they were able to evade capture. That is why they named the village Ganvie. It means “we survived”
Today, 500 years later, the village still stands. There are more than three thousand buildings in Ganvie. There is a school, post office, and even a bank! It’s no wonder Ganvie is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Benin.
For a fun activity, try to build your own village on stilts. It’s a great STEM activity that incorporates engineering and design into a fun activity. What would be the best material to use? Will your house withstand a flood? Try it out and see.