Center of History and Cultural Anthropology
Institute for African Studies of The Russian Academy of Sciences
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From September 16 to October 5 2008 in the Republic of Benin (in the cities of Abomey, Abomey-Kalavi, Allada, Cotonou, Ganvier, Ketou, Ouidah, and Porto-Novo) a group of social anthropologists from the Institute for African Studies conducted a research. This initiative was supported by the Russian State Foundation for the Humanities (projects 06-01-02083а and 06-01-02062а) and the Embassy of Russian Federation in the Republic of Benin and continued the respected research projects. The stuff of the expedition led by Dmitri M. Bondarenko included: Anastasia A. Banschikova, Ekaterina B. Deminsteva, Tatiana V. Evgenyeva, Oleg I. Kavykin, Anatoly D. Savateev.
The fieldwork in Benin made a contribution to the research projects "The Image of Russia in African Countries: Formation and Specificity" and "Russia and Islam: Civilizational Dialogue", began with the similar expeditions to the Federative Republic of Nigeria in 2006, to the United Republic of Tanzania in 2007 and two earlier expeditions to Tanzania, in 2003 and 2005 (see, for example, “Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Tanzania", Moscow, 2005; “Inter-racial and Inter-ethnical Relations in Contemporary Tanzania", Moscow, 2008). Elaboration of these projects presupposes the study of preconditions of contemporary Russia’s image formation in the connection with the history of the Soviet-African and Russian-African relations (their present-day condition); finding out the specific features of this image; searching the possibilities of its improvement, in particular in the context of the Christian-Muslim relations in the modern world.
In the process of fieldwork a series of interviews (around 20) with the representatives of intellectual, cultural, and business elite, i.e. people who can form and influence the image of Russia was conducted. Each interview consisted of 16 standardized questions, took about 40 minutes and was taped. The meeting with the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Benin was carried out, as well as with the Minister of Culture and stuff of the Ministry of Culture od Benin. Also there were the Informal meetings for discussing the problematics of the project with colleagues from the University Abomey-Kalavi and Educational College “A.K. Vereshchagin”. Besides, the members of the expedition visited traditional rulers of Allada and Abomey-Kalavi regions. Finally, a number of expert interviews with the Russians living in Benin for a long time was conducted. A photo-archive was composed.
The information got during three expeditions - 2006 in Nigeria, 2007 in Tanzania, and 2008 in Benin – i.e. to the countries with various attitudes to Russia (due to the fact that their relations with the Soviet Union differed greatly) allows to receive a complex if not contradictory picture of the image of Russia and her citizens in the eyes of continent's population.

Central Mosque in Cotonou (by Anastasia A. Banschikova)

Monument to G. Dimitrov in Bulgaria Square in Cotonou (by Dmitri M. Bondarenko)

In the streets of Cotonou (by Dmitry M. Bondarenko)

Facade of the traditional ruler's palace in the city of Allada (by Dmitri M. Bondarenko)

Traditional ruler (King) of Allada (by Tatiana V. Evgenyeva)

Altars of Voodoo in the city of Allada (by Dmitri M. Bondarenko)

A local citizen at the entrance of the city of Allada main shrine, where the cult of Voudoo originated (by Ekaterina B. Demintseva)

Catholical Cathedral in the city of Porto-Novo (by Anastasia A. Banschikova)

Porto-Novo. A church in Brasilian style transformed into a mosque (by Tatiana V. Evgenyeva)

The complex of palaces of traditional rulers of Dahomey (by Tatiana V. Evgenyeva)

Dahomey "flags" at the souvenir market in Cotonou (by Ekaterina B. Demintseva)

Members of the expedition's team in the holy forest in Ouidah -- the center of contemporary Voudouism. From left to right: Anastasia A. Banschikova, Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Ekaterina B. Demintseva, Anatoly A. Savateev, Oleg I. Kavykin, Tatiana V. Evgenyeva and Jules A. Yamonche (co-organizer of the expedition).

View of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception from the yard of the Temple of Pythons, the main temple of Voodouism (by Ekaterina B. Demintseva)

A cleric of the Temple of Pythons in the city of Ouidah (by Anastasia A. Banschikova)

A participant of the Egungun secret society feast (by Ekaterina B. Demintseva)

Porte du non retour. The monument at the place of the slaves' departure to the Americas (by Oleg I. Kavykin)

A fishers' village near the city of Ouidah (by Ekaterina B. Demintseva)

Ganvie, "the African Venice" (by Dmitri M. Bondarenko)

An African "Venetian" (by Dmitri M. Bondarenko)

The African "Ahilles" (by Tatiana V. Evgenyeva)