Aboard a boat, a fisherman casts his net. Around him are women with baskets waiting for the exploits. In adjacent boats are passengers; men and women, adorned in colorful African prints, hawkers rowing red pepper and food items, children jostling, and several large boats meandering and returning. Also, there are tourists, in special boats waiting to experience the floating village as well as some returning from the vast lake.
The sun is high; the sparse brown vegetation on the lake creates a fuzzy image.
‘Such beautiful scenery’, I thought.
I reach for my camera. Looking through my lens, the view before me came as a rude shock. I see people hurling at me, muttering in their dialect, showing a sign of disgust and annoyance over my click.
“What could be wrong?”
Doxey (1975) proposed an irritation index “Irridex” based on the understanding of residents’ attitudes towards tourists and tourism development. He identified four stages of a destination’s life cycle; euphoria, apathy, annoyance, and antagonism.
‘Could they be experiencing any of these stages?’
The Tofinu People
An oral tradition recorded that the Tofinu people evaded from the Fon tribe (Slave captors) onto the lake, however, due to religious beliefs, the slave captors couldn’t give them a hot chase on the lake. As a result, the Tofinu people made stilts houses, created a floating
village on the lake and established Ganvie.
Ganvie’s houses, shops, churches, hotels, and restaurants built on bamboo and wooden stilts are suspended several feet above the water except for the school which was developed on a patch of land close to the lake. Also, Ganvie has a floating market and an art and crafts shop where the villagers display wares and arts attributable to them.
Today, Ganvie is a tourist destination, with people all over the world visiting to experience the community. Previously based on farming, the current predominant occupation of the people is fishing and tourism.
Ganvie is not dubbed the Venice of Africa for no reason. It shares similarities with Venice. It is a floating village and a tourist destination. In 1996, it was added to the tentative list of the UNESCO world heritage site. One can only access Ganvie through a mode of transportation; boat, at the Abomey-Calavi jetty, Benin.
From my lens, I could see what the locals had to endure daily as throngs of tourists who visit, meddle into their privacies, leaving behind imprints and their images displayed elsewhere without their consent. The encounter enabled an assumption in the eye of the indigene.
“Would I like a stranger take my picture without my consent?”
Euphoria: The people of Ganvie are warm, welcoming and hospitable.
Apathy: The locals go about their daily activities and act indifferent about the tourists’ activities within their village.
Annoyance: At the sight of any lens, they are quick to shy away from but most likely to rebuke its owner.
Antagonism: I witnessed some children snapping and splashing water at a tourist, as well as some adults hurling insults and making derogatory gesticulations at tourists taking shots of them.
“Could I then say that the tourists’ lenses remind the people of Ganvie about the Fon tribe or could it be that, just as the Tofinu people guarded their land against the Fon tribe, they are also guarding their floating village from the influence of tourists? Is it safe to conclude that the locals feel that tourists are neo-slave captors, déjà vu probably?”
I put down my camera and dashed for some spicy fish and beer at the local restaurant. Ganvie’s fish dishes are one of the best delicacies in Africa. Having tasted it myself, I can attest to this fact.
This is Ganvie!