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Forêt Sacrée de Sinatabé, Bénin

Location and community

The sacred forest of Sinatabé is located in the district of Ina in the municipality of Bembèrèkè in the department of Borgou in Benin. The northern limit of the forest is delimited by the village called 'Ina 1 whose population is estimated at 3,732 inhabitants (INSAE, 2013), or 16% of the total population of the department of Ina. In the commune of Bembèrèkè , there are two main socio-cultural groups: the Baatombu and relatives (48%) and the Peulh and relatives (38%). The "royal clan NARI DINA" manages the forest and belongs to the socio-cultural group Baatombu .

The dominant economic activities of the municipality of Bembèrèkè are agriculture (74%) and trade and catering (18%) (Monograph of the municipality of Bembèrèkè ) . The dominant crops are cotton, maize, soybeans, millet and yams.

Cultural significance and history

The sacred forest of Sinatabé represents a place of practice of the cult of " Sinatabé " venerated by the population of Bembèrèkè and the royal court. The variety of rites practiced in this sacred forest constitutes an exceptional cultural richness and is fundamental for the identity of the Baatonou populations ( Baatonu is the language and Baatombu is the people). It has always served as a source of blessing and protection, especially for royalty. The forest has also preserved rare and endangered plant and animal species as well as medicinal plants for several decades . The name Sinatabé comes from the expression " gussounon Sina tabooin mi ", which translates as "that in this place the miracle of God hangs there". This is symbolized by an termite mound surrounded by a jar. The water that accumulates in the jar serves to ward off evil spells and offers blessings such as victory, fertility and abundance of goods.

Historically, the sacred forest of Sinatabé is a heritage left by the ancestors to the NARI DINA clan. Access to the forest is allowed to anyone, regardless of gender or rank, with the exception of menstruating women and red objects. Colas (also known as weasels) and hens are sacrificed, but not goats. Within the line of NARI DINA, the priest of the divinity is chosen by the sages of the King (the traditional Chief). He is the King's confidant and deals with affairs outside the Kingdom. The priest is assisted by a NARI woman called GNON BASSOUNOU. She takes care of the kitchen during the periodic ceremonies. Worship practices and sacrifices are done every five days. People come from all over, either to honor promises made to the deity or to ask for his protection. The current priest is SINAWOU YEROU who must be dressed in white to access the forest.

There is great respect for traditional institutions in Bembèrèkè commune . The traditional chief has more authority in some places than the elected official. Interministerial Order No. 021/MEHU/MDGLAT/DC/SGM/DGFRN/SA, providing a framework for the community management of sacred forests in Benin, makes it possible to ensure the local management of forests by local populations.

Ecological services

Religious and spiritual: The deity " Sinatabé " in the sacred forest of Sinatabé helps to ward off evil spells and offers blessings such as victory, fertility and abundance of goods in the life of the person who asks for it.

Water: On the eastern side of the forest, there is a river that dries up when the rains stop. This endangers the animals during the dry seasons as they leave the forest to look for water and are victims of poaching. There is currently a project funded by the National Environment and Climate Fund (FNEC) to create a solar-powered borehole to not only facilitate the watering of animal species but also to develop other income-generating activities such as fish farming. .

Climate change: The different tree species present participate in climate regulation, in the fight against climate change and soil erosion. Developments carried out in the forest, in particular certain plant species, fight against flooding.

Medicinal plants: The medicinal plants available in the forest are used to cure several diseases in the community.


The plant species found in the sacred forest of Sinatabé are diverse. These are large trees such as: Milicia excelsa , Azadirachta indica , Khaya senegalensis and Sarcocephalus latifolius . Faunal diversity consists of guinea fowl ( Numida meleagri ), hares ( Lepus crawshayi ), mona monkey ( Cercopithecus mona ), squirrel ( Protoxerus stangeri ), giant rats or cricetomes ( Cricetomys gambianus ), yellow-winged bat ( Lavia fronts ), common patas monkey ( Erytrocebus patas ) and bushbuck ( Tragelaphus scriptus ). There are also many reptiles such as the seba python ( Python sebae ), monitor lizards ( Varanus spp .), vipers ( Viperidae ) and cobras ( Naja ). There are several gastropods, including snails (such as Achatina spp .) and slugs. In addition there are giant tortoises.

Conservation and protection activities

The sacred forest of Sinatabé has existed for more than a hundred years. It is one of the places where King BIO GUERA resisted colonization. Sinatabé was proposed as a protected area before the 2000s but was recognized through the Project for the Integration of Sacred Forests into the System of Protected Areas (PIFSAP) in 2012 by decree n°021/MEHU/MDGLAT/DC/ SGM/DGFRN/ SA on the community management framework for sacred forests in Benin. The PIFSAP project aims to improve the sustainable use of the globally significant biodiversity existing in and around the sacred forests of Benin by integrating them into the formal system of protected areas (PAs). It also aims to strengthen the legal and institutional framework and promote community co-management of Sacred Forests. The 2012 decree gave the Sinatabé forest recognition at the local level which supports the enrichment and conservation actions undertaken. For example, the actions undertaken in the sacred forest of Sinatabé have been recognized and supported by the municipality of Bembèrèkè and the Borgou Forest Inspectorate . The forest does not have a specific decree on its own ( Although there is an inter- ministerial decree for all ICCAs in Benin) but steps are underway for a legal declaration of the protected area.

Two major projects (UNDP and FNEC) are currently being implemented in the sacred forest of Sinatabé by an NGO called AFEJE BENIN with support from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program administered by the United Nations Environment Programme. (PMF-GEF/UNDP) and the National Environment and Climate Fund (FNEC). The first project supports the sustainable management of the sacred forests of Sinatabé and Wianso in the municipality of Bembèrèkè and the second supports the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems in the forest of Sinataté .

The actions of AFEJE BENIN, with the support of PMF-GEF/UNDP and FNEC, have made it possible to:

  • revitalize the local forest management committee sacred of Sinatabé and increase its influence ,
  • continue the process of enriching the forest by introducing new tree species to restore its plant cover;
  • program developments such as boreholes, fish ponds to increase forest protection in 2023;
  • introduce eco-responsible activities such as beekeeping, fish farming and rabbit farming (the practice of herding and rearing rabbits as livestock).

The management committee also supported the actions of AFEJE BENIN by planting seedlings along the limits of the forest to reinforce its limits. With the strong protection actions implemented by the local management committee, we now rarely witness anarchic harvesting of woody species or wandering livestock in the forest.

How are conservation impacts measured or monitored?

A management committee of thirteen members monitors and participates in conservation actions for the sacred forest of Sinatabé . The APAC community and more particularly the management committee is informed and involved before any action for the conservation or sustainable management of the sacred forest. Its action is limited to the level of this sacred forest and no interference is possible. The sacred forest of Sinatabé participates in the activities of the national APAC consortium. This consortium works, among other things, to protect the rights of local communities over ICCAs.

The impacts of the conservation of the sacred forest of Sinatabé are measured in terms of restoration of vegetation cover, number of people supported by eco-responsible activities such as beekeeping and fish farming instead of unsustainable activities and monitoring developments by limiting human pressure on the forest.

The direct beneficiaries of the projects are the beekeepers (15 young people), the fish farmers (10 young people), the members of the management committee (13 members) and the indirect beneficiaries made up of almost the entire population of the municipality of Bembèrèkè for whom the sacred forest of Sinatabé offers its potential, in particular with the developments carried out. In addition, the conservation activities carried out allow the development of activities in the primary and secondary sectors, socio-economic and community infrastructures, as well as opportunities related to the implementation of development programs. The animal and plant species present in the sacred forest will also be positively affected and the forest also offers an opportunity for tourism development.

What are the planned future activities?

  • Complete management work
  • Develop beekeeping practices for the benefit of members of the management committee by introducing Kenyan hives
  • Introduce 10 young people to fish farming
  • Help women raise rabbits
  • Securing a 15ha area of the sacred forest of Sintab é by building a fence around the perimeter

Then we need to mobilize more partners to help carry out these activities.

What lessons have been learned so far?

ICCAs are extremely important to our community. However, they are not immune to human pressure which accelerates their degradation. Community awareness remains a prerequisite for the protection of ICCAs. In addition to this awareness, it is important to reflect on the activities that can ensure the sustainable management of these ICCAs.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in March 2023. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.