Forêt Sacrée Tanhounzoun, Bénin
The sacred forest of Tanhounzoun is located in Kingbé village, Oungbègamè borough, Djidja municipality. This is a municipality in Benin that is dominated by the Fon people. Kingbé village itself has around 159 households and 840 inhabitants.
The forest is home to three deities: Tanhoun, Guédéguédékpo and Hêdjèlimè. The local community turns to these deities to seek solutions to their socio-economic, spiritual and even political problems. Many ceremonies are organised in the sacred forest, led by the guardians of the deities. The variety of rites practiced in this sacred forest are seen as a part of the cultural wealth of the indigenous populations.
History and Activities
The sacredness of the Tanhounzoun forest dates back to the time of King Agadja (1711 - 1740), the fifth king of Abomey. Before a fight, the King would visit the forest to ask the ancestors for protection. The tradition of going to this forest to seek protection extended to seeking other spiritual help, and these practices have been passed down the generations. Today the local community turn to the deities when they face problems such as drought, epidemics or infertility. Exploitation of timber forest products is prohibited by the dignitaries who guard the deities. The collection of medicinal plants is for household use only.
In 2019 the NGO ‘Espoir Pour Tous’ (Hope for All) launched a project to support the sustainable preservation of the sacred forests’ biological and cultural values. As part of this project that was supported by the GEF Micro-financing Program, the physical boundaries of the sacred forest of Tanhounzoun were demarcated with a living fence of trees/vegetation. The local populations have been trained in modern beekeeping, and the governance of Tanhounzoun is being strengthened with the establishment of a local management committee. Before the project, the forest was experiencing pressure from agricultural encroachment, including livestock grazing, and trees felling for timber and charcoal production. These threats are being addressed through planting a living perimeter, restoring forest cover, and supporting ecologically responsible activities and livelihoods.
Further funding is being sought in order to support development and implementation of a management plan.
Tanhounzoun is a 15ha remnant of what was once a forest covering 100ha. The upper canopy of the forest is dominated by kapok tree, as well as tall Baobabs. While there has not yet been an in-depth study of its flora and fauna, it is known that all the large animals are gone, and the priority is to safeguard the remaining biodiversity (birds, reptiles and rodents).
Current activities include restoration of plant cover and improvement of living conditions, which is supported by eco-responsible activities such as beekeeping (15 women and men) and pottery (140 women). These are seen as alternatives to activities that contribute to the destruction of the vegetation and animals of the forest.
Management and Governance
A local management committee headed by an executive board (composed of five members) oversees the conservation and monitoring activities within the sacred forest. This committee was set up by ’Espoir Pour Tous’ with support from the GEF Micro-financing Programme.
The municipal decree recognising this sacred forest is in the process of being adopted in accordance with the provisions of the inter-ministerial decree (N ° 021/MEHU/MDGLAT/DC/SGM/DGFRN/SA of 16th November 2012). This decree defines the conditions for sustainable management of sacred forests in the Republic of Benin.
The local community itself faces challenges including inadequate access to education, healthcare and sanitation. This increases the vulnerability of the community and its dependence on the resources of the sacred forest. Through annual worship ceremonies the community is involved in the choices and implementation of conservation actions for this sacred forest.
What’s Next and Lessons Learned
To secure the protection of land tenure under modern laws a simple management plan will be developed. This will complement existing customary laws. It will also promote all ongoing activities (reforestation, beekeeping, pottery) as well as the functioning of the local management committee. The municipal recognition decree will further secure this sacred forest.
In terms of lessons learned, the ICCA is seen as an iconic place for the local community, however this status does not shield it from pressures from a growing and vulnerable population. To divert these populations’ activities away from overexploitation of forest resources, it is essential to offer them relevant alternatives. Where appropriate, local communities are ready and willing to cooperate to preserve their forest.
This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in June 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.