The Stilt Village

A couple of weekends ago, we took a small boat ride to a stilt village on a lake called Ganvie. As the story goes, the people of a certain village were being chased by an army who wanted to kill them or sell them into slavery. So, the tribe’s leader looked out across a big lake and saw an island in the middle and was like, those army men don’t know how to swim, so they’ll be afraid to chase us out there. And then his people were like, “we don’t know how to swim either and we’re afraid to go out there, lest we die!” But, the king decided to go anyway, (supposedly using magical powers to turn himself into a bird), and his people followed. It worked; when the army came by they were too scared to try to swim out to kill them, so they just left them alone. The descendants of those people still live on the lake. They have built wooden houses on stilts in the lake – since there wasn’t much actual island to begin with and now there’s roughly 20,000 people living here. According to our guide, anyone can just set up a house in the lake, so I guess that’s cheap real estate. The lake is very shallow and a murky brown color, more like a marsh.

The people in the stilt houses have erected a series of fish traps, using palm branches as little fish-fences. So, they farm fish, since there’s not a lot of other stuff to do when you live in a house on stilts in a lake. Thankfully, many fish thrive in the murky water just fine. One of the houses had solar panels for electricity, and another one had a diesel generator and had posted that you could charge your phone battery for money. Most people paddled in wooden canoes to go to the floating market, school, church other places in the stilt village. People paddled to go out fishing with little circular nets, and paddled to get back to the mainland. There was a lot of paddling and stilt/poling!

Since this stilt village is something interesting, they also get a lot of tourist visitors like us. We could tell from the mixed responses and strained looks that we were not the first travelers to visit here, and that they were getting a little tired of being ogled at and videoed. So we tried to be as respectful as possible. It’s a strange position we put ourselves in sometimes, going on tours to see how others live. But, it’s also a blessing to see the diversity of human existence, and to know that God sees us all the same.