Benin: Brothers Grimm meet the Shire


Travelling through the Somba country feels like a journey through a fairy tale book. The Tata Sombas which dot the countryside are tiny fortresses built by the Somba tribe, complete with high walls, little turrets and entrances which look like faces. Inside, small rooms with round openings and a network of tunnels make the tatas look like Hobbit holes.

The tatas’ original purpose was defensive at a time of war and slave raids. They are built on two levels. The ground level is where the Sombas keep their animals as well as old folk on the threshold of death (that dark area has a cosmological association with the afterlife). The second level is a terrace used for gatherings and to dry grains, surrounded by small turrets, some of which are used as rooms and others as granaries.

Every tata is protected by gris gris and a fetish. When a new tata needs to be built to accommodate a growing family, the future owner shoots an arrow towards the sky and builds the tata where the arrow lands.

Tata Sombas



On the terrace with a resident



At the tata where we spend the night, the boys take over the kitchen and cook for us