The Somba people of Benin….

Somba translated as ‘naked, explains why the Somba people still live in their traditional ways. Keep scrolling to know more about these people.

The first identification of the Somba people of Benin is the presence of scarification on the face and other parts of the body, starting between the age of two and three. The scarification which they see as special marks is a form of lifelong identification, identifying the tribe to which one belongs as well as more coded personal information. Additional marks are added at puberty- with the purpose of initiating a person into adult life, readiness for marriage, and post-childbirth as a form of visible communication. Usually, the scarification is made on the face, the belly and the back. Also called Batammariba or Otammari or Tammari, the Somba, are an African ethnic group found primarily in northwestern Benin and northern Togo. They share a border with their Gur relatives in neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Image ref : 101lasttribes

Known for their ancient penis elongation and enlargement techniques. The Somba people practice this technique during male initiation into adulthood. Traditional herbs are pounded and robbed on the penis. After that, a branch of a tree or ivory is cut and a hole of a particular size is made for the initiate. The initiate put his penis in it for some months until it reaches a particular size and length of his choice then he removes it.

Image ref: 101lasttribes

They are known for their indigenous architectural expertise. The name Batammariba means “the people who are the real builders of the earth”. The colonialist also gave them the name Tamberma, in Togo, meaning “Good Builders”.

They are famous for their two-story fortified houses, known as Tata Somba (“Somba house”), in which the ground floor is used for housing livestock at night, internal alcoves are used for cooking, and the upper floor contains a rooftop courtyard and is used for drying grain, sleeping quarters, and granaries. These evolved by adding an enclosing roof to the clusters of huts joined by a connecting wall that is typical of Gur-speaking areas of West Africa.

Image ref: Unseen Benin

This particular architecture was born during the seventeenth century, to defend from soldiers of other tribes looking to catch people to be sold as slaves to the New World. Batammaliba religious concerns can be seen in certain features of architecture and village planning. Each house faces the west or more accurately southwest in order to look onto the domicile of the solar deity, in the southwestern sky. Key architectural elements, including the earthen ‘horns’ above the door, the hole in the centre of the terrace, and a conical mound in front of the door, serve as a locus for Kuiye to worship the female earth goddess.

Image ref: 101lasttribes

The Takyenta, a traditional dwelling, is typically constituted from mud and surrounded by towers that support garrets, evoking a medieval citadel. 

History has it that the origins of the Batammariba are somewhat uncertain. Archaeological investigations and oral history indicate that the Batammariba migrated to their present home from the north and northwest around Burkina Faso where they were living with the Mossi people sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. This historical account could be true as the language and building style reflects that of other people in the area such as the Gangan, Gurma, Moba, Bassar, Nawda, among others.

Image ref: 101lasttribes

When it comes to Division of labour, Tamberma men look after cattle whilst women tend goats and poultry. The size of the Somba cow matches the castle where it is kept. In farming, men weed the land and do most of the planting with little support from women. Women also perform almost all the household chores with their children.

For dowries and ritual sacrifice, only the Somba breed of cattle is used. A Tamberma, on reaching a certain age, sacrifices a bull to his ancestors.

It is still a surprise to many that despite civilisation in some parts of Africa, The Benin people of Somba still hold their traditions dear.

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