Today we went out from Nattatingou in northern Benin on a real overlanding adventure. The object was the amazing residential
structures known as Tata Somba, which span the border region here between Benin and Togo. In 2004 UNESCO declared the Koutammakou area on the Togo side a World Cultural Heritage site and it is easy to see why. The tata were apparently designed in the 1700s to provide some degree of security to the family against mauraders (slave hunters primarily). They are compact single family dwellings that consist of four two-storey towers joined together by an external wall. The main floor is dedicated to animals (guinea fowl, cows, etc) and the man, who sleeps in the base of one of the towers. Another tower base is for cooking and grinding maize, another provides the access to the second storey where the mother and children sleep in “rooms”. The tops of each of the towers is a flat slanted space used to dry grains in the sun. This is also where the grain is stored, in a large conical bin that is also accessed by means of a ladders.
The advancement of modernity is seen in the presence of numerous complexes that consist of larger, rectangular brick structures integrated into the expanded circumference of the original house for children who find the original structure too small and impractical. Our guide in Togo referred to children who worked as civil servants in Cotonou, Lome, or Paris, who built these so they could come home for their holidays. It is intriguing to think of the Immigration or Customs official or Tax Policy Analyst who goes on holiday fromtheir office in the city and moves into the family tata.
The traditonal animist religion is evident everywhere. Families build fetishes to represent deities that protect the family or the property. Each member of the family has a fetish to represent them.
Even without the human footprint, the area is beautiful. You actually cross the Atakora Mountain chain as you go west from Nattitingou and then descend into a beautiful valle and into Togo, made more so now by the green lushness brought by the rainy season. The green of the exotic vegetation and the fantastic nature of the Tata Somba residential complexes gave the whole thing an unreal feel to it. It looks like something out of fantasy writers imagination. I almost expect Bilbo Baggins to emerge from a doorway.