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.

like a little fortress

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 on the spot where the arrow has fallen.

standing by the gris gris
on the second level of the tata – each turret is a bedroom or granary
cooking in the kitchen of the Otemari guest house where we stay in the Somba country