Primarily located in: Benin, Togo
Also found in: Ghana, Nigeria, Mali
For years, anthropologists and others looked at African ethnic groups as being mostly solitary and static. However, historians now know that huge empires and kingdoms, with administrations and armies, diplomatic corps and distant trading partners, have long been part of Africa’s fabric. This is especially true of West Africa, where migrations, conquests and intermarriage within allied kingdoms help explain why, for example, 43% of people from the Benin/Togo region have DNA that looks similar to the profile for the Ivory Coast/Ghana region, and 28% similar to the profile for Nigeria.
How Black Sovereign compares to the typical person native to the Benin/Togo region
Genetic Diversity in the Benin/Togo Region
The people living in the Benin/Togo region are admixed, which means that when creating genetic ethnicity estimates for people native to this area, we sometimes see similarities to DNA profiles from other regions. We’ve found that approximately 82% of the typical Benin/Togo native’s DNA comes from this region.
We have used our reference panel to build a genetic profile for Benin/Togo. The blue chart above shows examples of ethnicity estimates for people native to this region. For Benin/Togo we see a fairly wide range: for some natives, as little as 28% of their DNA comes from the region, while for others, 100% looks similar to the profile. For Benin/Togo natives with DNA from neighboring regions, we most commonly see the Ivory Coast/Ghana region. About 43% of Benin/Togo natives have DNA from Ivory Coast/Ghana, while another 28% have DNA similar to the profile for Nigeria. (See the green chart above.)
Benin sits just west of Nigeria, and west of Benin is Togo. Benin has a population of 9.88 million that is growing at an annual rate of 2.84%. Togo is only slightly behind with a growth rate of 2.73% and 7.15 million people. Both countries’ populations are largely rural, but more densely concentrated along the coast. Though tied closely together by history, geography and religion, the inhabitants of Benin and Togo are ethnically quite different.
Benin’s largest ethnic group is the Fon (39%), followed by the Adja (15%), Yoruba (12%) and Bariba (9%). Togo’s largest ethnic groups are the Ewe (21%), Kabye (12%), Mina (3.2%) and Kotokoli (3.2%). Benin has more ethnic ties to its neighbor Nigeria; Togo has more links to Ghana. These ethnic ties are the result of long-standing kingdoms that flourished before European colonists created new borders.
Considering their small size, both countries have great ethnic diversity, especially in the north. Some populations there are related to ethnic groups farther north in Burkina Faso, and the small but influential Hausa population is largely responsible for bringing Islam to Togo. In the south of Benin, the Fon people are dominant. They are descendants from the powerful African kingdom of Dahomey that ruled the region from about 1600 to 1900.
Most northern Beninese and Togolese practice herding, fishing and subsistence farming. Trade is limited in the north, where neither country has much in the way of navigable waterways or viable roads. In the more urbanized south, however, people have greater social and physical mobility. Most urban Africans in the Benin/Togo region work at a trade or sell goods at local markets. In the past, the proximity to the coast spawned trade relationships with Europeans, other Africans and with slave traders. The countries on the Bight of Benin were part of the so-called “Slave Coast” and in the late 1600s became the top suppliers of slaves to the New World. As a result, the genetic footprint of the Benin/Togo region can be found across much of the Western Hemisphere.
Many people in Togo and Benin speak one of about 20 related Gbe languages. Linguistic evidence indicates that most of the Gbe people came from the east in several migrations between the 10th and 15th centuries. The Gbe were pushed westward during a series of wars with the Yoruba people of Nigeria, then settled in Tado on the Mono River (in present-day Togo).
Around 1600, Fon emigrants from Tado established the Kingdom of Dahomey, a Fon monarchy that ruled Benin for some 300 years. Its standing army, an aggressive economic model that relied on slavery for export and labor, and its “Amazon” warriors (elite troops of fierce, female combat soldiers) made the Kingdom of Dahomey a powerful regional threat. It was also the top trading partner with the Europeans. Other contemporary kingdoms in Benin included Porto-Novo, as well as smaller northern states. In Togo, the Kabye and Lamba (or Lama) peoples migrated to the north between 600 and 1200 A.D. Many other groups who settled in Togo were refugees of wars in Dahomey and what is now Ghana.
European slave traders first became a force on the coast of West Africa. By 1475 Portuguese traders had reached the Bight of Benin, and by the mid-1500s Spain and England had also legalized the slave trade. As the demand for slaves grew, the Kingdom of Dahomey (and others in the region) provided European traders with a constant supply in exchange for goods and firearms. Dahomey, which had long paid tribute to the Yoruba Empire of Oyo, used its new weapons and power to throw off that yoke.
More than 2 million slaves were sent from the Bight of Benin to the New World, and among them were many from Benin and Togo’s major ethnic groups. The Adja, Mina, Ewe and Fon groups of this region were the third-most enslaved groups sent to the New World. A great number of these went to Haiti and Brazil, where they established their traditional religious practices and ancestor worship, better known today as Voodoo, Santería or Macumba.
With the end of slavery, the Kingdom of Dahomey lost its revenue source and began an economic decline. The French defeated Dahomey in a series of wars between 1890 and 1894, and eventually, both Benin and Togo (minus an area under British control) became part of French West Africa. One result of the French colonial period was that, in many cases, French West Africans had certain citizenship or other rights under French law; over time, African communities sprang up in France and other parts of Europe. In 1960, both Benin and Togo declared independence.
Note that genetic ethnicity estimates are based on individuals living in this region today. While a prediction of genetic ethnicity from this region suggests a connection to the groups occupying this location, it is not conclusive evidence of membership to any particular tribe or ethnic group.
Did You Know?
Benin’s village of Ganvie stands on stilts in the middle of Lake Nokoué. Tradition says the village was built on the lake to protect the Tofinu people from slave traders because Fon warriors, who captured slaves for Portuguese traders, were not allowed to fight on water.