In the shadow of Shatila

They are whole sale dealers, managers, school teachers or truck drivers. They are all different, yet they have one thing in common : their passion for the Arabian horse. We are in Djougou, a small town in north-west Benin, 40 km from the border with Togo and 461 km from Cotonou the economic capital of Benin.

According to the legend, the ancient pagan tribes of Arabia fled Mecca during islamisation. They fled with their horses and crossed Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria… In Benin they established their kingdom in the central region of Nikki.

They are commonly called “Bariba”, “lots of horses” in Dendi, a dialect from Niger. Islam caught up with them and today they are muslim, christian and animist. They kept their passion for the Arabian horse. The horse is part of their family, tradition and even their identety.

There is no horse breeding in Benin, the Stallions are bought in the neighboring Niger…

When there is a celebration, the horsemen organise a “Gaani”. There is at least one big “Gaani” a year: at the prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Gaanis are also organised to celebrate the election of a new king or an important event in the horsemen’s lives.

The word “Gaani” means “Joy” or “Victory”, it’s the African version of the moroccan Fantasia. It’s a custom that comes straight from Arabia. The horsemen and their Arabian horses, richly dressed, perform complex choreographies to the sound of the drums, simulacrums of battles are played, followed by a demonstration of their dressage skills.

The horsemen recently became organised and are headed by the son of a former president of Benin.

The presented pictures cover a large spectrum of the horsemen’s lives and concentrate on the integration of the horses in the every day life of these men: training, transport of horses, races and of course the “Gaani”.

error: ©Tarek Charara/Kaleidos images