Water and Culture
by Amy Gaspar, Dogbo Ahome, Benin
In Benin, it is customary to offer water to visitors who enter your home. This simple gesture is very important in Beninese culture. It means that you are welcome to speak in the home as you please, with nothing to be nervous about. It is considered rude not to offer water and not to drink water that is offered.
As a foreigner, it is not always in the best interest of my health to drink water that is offered to me. I was relieved to learn that I may simply pour a little water on the ground as a symbolic gesture. By pouring water on the ground, I am saying that I am not alone—spirits accompany me, and I am offering them the water.
I would just like to give you a little information on the Dogbo Ahome water pump where I took the photos for this project. Dogbo Ahome is a small village located southwest of my village. The pump was put in by a "white man's project" 15 years ago. According to the local story, the first day the pump was available to the local villagers, everyone came to get water. The local voodoo queen did not get to the pump in time; the water had already been turned off when her helpers got there. The queen was angry and told her helpers to return to the pump, and said that it would be running when they got there. Since that day the water has run all the time.
Before this pump was put in the people had to rely on collected rainwater or walk three kilometers to a well. Now water is always available and free to everyone.