Forêt Sacrée Honhouévé de Dogbo Ahomey, Bénin
The Sacred Forest of Honhouévé in Dogbo Ahomey village is an ICCA that covers 0.8km2 and is over 1,000 years old. The Dogbo Ahomey community, who live there permanently, consists of 33 households and 122 people.
Some of the main objectives of the ICCA are to protect its spiritual and sacred values, and to cure diseases through the use of medicinal plants, prayers and offerings (which are led by the Queen) to the deities. The community also want to preserve their culture and traditions, while maintaining and improving natural resources, especially the conservation of rare species. It also wants to develop tourism opportunities.
History and Activities
Assouagonon was the historical founder of the village of Dogbo Ahomey. He was a hunter from Allada who was fleeing the Danhome war with his brother Dadjika when they settled in the village. One day they saw some smoke in the middle of a big forest, where they wouldn’t have expected humans to be. Out of curiosity, Assouagonon went into the forest alone and found himself in front of a strange couple, one half of their bodies was black and the other half white. The couple had a calabash (a type of gourd) for a home, which rolled along the ground to transport itself. The noise of this calabash was "Dogbo Dogbo Dogbo". Assouagonon panicked and wanted to turn around. But the man, named Assuihon, called out to him. After an exchange, Assouagonon was told to go back to the village with his brother. So he left, and told this story to anyone who visited him. He would say "mia yi dogbo dogbo homè", which means "let's go to the ‘Dogbo Dogbo’ house". And so the names Dogbo and Ahomè were born.
Assouagonon was at home one morning when a man named Honhoué went to see him. Honhoué had usually suffered contempt from all of his foster families, but he got on well with Assouagonon who looked after him in his house. Honhoué found a peaceful life despite his whims. He thanked Assouagonon and his family for the hospitality and disappeared into the forest. Assouagonon found a river in the forest, and baptised the river and the forest ‘Honhoué’, making them sacred. And so this is where the name Honhouéve comes from.
Within the ICCA, as well having different sized trees there are panicum bushes, which are shelters for the deities. Healings, conflict resolution, sacrifices, rain ceremonies, combat, casting spells, worship and offerings are conducted at these shelters. The mystical water within the ICCA is used by the Queen to heal certain illnesses. Sometimes certain medicinal plants are also used by dignitaries to treat illnesses, but only following authorisation from the ICCA’s management committee and the King. The marine environment is exploited in part for fish farming but according to well-defined rules.
The ICCA is recognised by local authorities through a communal decree. It is proposed as a national protected area, but the community does not yet have an official document. The site was reconginsed as an ICCA through the Project for Integration of Sacred Forests into the Protected Areas System (PIFSAP) in 2012. PIFSAP aims to improve the sustainable use of areas of global importance in and around the Sacred Forests of Benin. It does so by integrating them into the formal system of protected areas (PAs) thereby strengthening the legal and institutional protection, and by promoting community co-management of the sacred forest.
This ICCA is home to many different types of flora and fauna. Some areas in the forest are more grassy with panicum bushes, whereas other parts of the ICCA are wetland. The fauna is made up of mammals (e.g. Greater caned rat, Gambian rat, and squirrels to name a few) and reptiles (e.g. Naja snake, pythons and vipers). There are also other reptiles such as the Nile water monitor, the dwarf crocodile, Agama Lizard, Salamanders and Chameleons. There are also many Toads and frogs.Fish species live in the wetland areas, including catfish and Tilapia. Molluscs, gastropods and giant snails are also present. In addition to these flora and fauna resources, the forest is full of deities.
Management and Governance
Communally owned and governed by the local communities the ICCA is recognised in sub-national law and by other neighbouring communities. The community delegate decision-making to a governing council made up of indigenous peoples, local communities and elders. The local management committee is set up by members of the community, with the support of the King and Queen.
The community faces threats including biodiversity decline, climate change and de-legitimisation of customary rights. Threats have been reduced somewhat thanks to the support of NGOs, and the establishment and strengthening of the local management committee.
This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in March 2021. 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.