Crossing the "Black Earth": Environmental Change, Eco-Nationalism, and Post-Independence Autonomy in a Beninese Forest Community

Quadrant: Environment, Culture, and Sustainability

This project seeks to assess the complex nature of relationships between Africans and their surrounding environment. In particular, it demonstrates how the Ohori community in southeastern Benin has crafted ecological nationalist, or “eco-nationalist,” narratives based on its citizens’ historical dialogue with their surrounding environment. By emphasizing three interconnected themes—indigenous statehood, nationalism, and perceptions of land and landscape—Professor Filippello argues that this group of people living in a valley of seasonal wetlands comprise an African forest state that never conceived of itself as colonized. Filippello argues that the community’s sense of autonomy is rooted in a pre-colonial defiance to indigenous regional empires, persisting in different forms as members of the community later resisted French colonial rule and attempted to maintain their sovereignty in the face of competing Dahomean/Beninese nationalist rhetoric following independence. Drawing on the textual nature of the Pobé-Ketu road that traverses the valley, Filippello illustrates how Ohori eco-nationalist identities have changed over time and been driven by the community’s association with perceived transformations in environment and associated challenges to its political autonomy.

University of Minnesota