Benin has an average population density of 102 residents
per km2. However, the population is highly
concentrated in the southern parts of the country, where the
density amounts to more than 120 residents per km2
- locally to more than 500 residents per km2.
In 2019, the share of urban residents made up 45 percent
of the population. The largest cities in 2014 were the port
city of Cotonou (678,900 residents) and the capital
For information on life expectancy and other demographic
statistics, see Country facts.
Countryaah, Benin's largest population (1.7 million) is fon
(dahomey), which inhabits the southern parts. They belong to
the ewe people and feed on the cultivation of corn, cassava
and yams; palm oil is produced for sale. The marriage is
polygynous, i.e. one man has several wives, and each wife
lives with her children in her own hut within the yard. The
formerly important patrilineal clans have lost their
importance even though ancestral cult is still an important
element of religion. Each village was traditionally led by a
chieftain, whose office was hereditary, and he was the local
representative of the King of the Dahome Empire.
In southeastern and central Benin live Yoruba (1 million)
and in the sparsely populated northern part of the country
various voltaic-speaking groups, of which bargu (bariba) is
the largest (652,000). In the north, there are also groups
of nomadic, livestock- feeding fulani (410,000), who are
Muslims. Kwa-speaking groups in the central and southern
parts of the country are aja (780,000), mine (112,000) and
xwla (140,000). Other groups are dendi (50,000) and arrow
In Benin, some fifty native languages are spoken,
mainly belonging to the Gur and Kwagren of the Niger-Congo
languages. The largest is phon, a Kwa language spoken by
nearly 25% of the population and also used as an
interpersonal language. The official language is French. See
further Population above.
Portuguese Catholics came to the area in the late 15th
century and the then king of the country, which until 1975
was called Dahomey, was christened to Christianity in 1491.
In 1680, the first Portuguese settled in the country. The
country became a French colony in 1894, then named French
Dahomey. These ties to Catholic countries in Europe may
partly explain that 23% of the population today (2010) are
Catholics, while Protestants are counted at about 4%. Islam,
especially Sunni, is comprised of about 23% of the
population. Benin is one of those countries in Africa where
indigenous African beliefs and rites are still of great
importance and about 50% of the population embraces this
traditional form of religion. The voodoo cult in Haiti has
its origins in the phonics, where the word vodun means 'god'
Dahomey became independent in 1960. In 1972, the country
was declared by then President Mathieu Kérékou to be a
Marxist-Leninist state and in 1975 the name was changed from
Dahomey to the Benin Republic. Marxism-Leninism was
abolished in 1990, democracy was introduced and the
country's name changed to the Republic of Benin.
The government is actively striving to guarantee
religious freedom, and confrontations between religious
groups are rare.