Curious Facts: Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba People, Benin and Togo
Sikien, the traditional earthen houses of the Batammariba people, dot the landscape of the Tribe’s homeland, known as Koutammakou. They have been recognized with UNESCO World Heritage status for their “eloquent testimony to the strength of spiritual association between people and the landscape.” Here are some other interesting facts about these structures:
Siken are a national symbol for Togo.
Koutammakou was the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage site when it was inscribed in 2004.
The name of the Batammariba Tribe means “those who are the real architects of earth.”
True to this name, the entire community is involved in building sikien (singular takienta), with men responsible for raising the walls and women tasked with preparing, applying, and decorating the earthen plaster that covers them.
The main door of each takienta is positioned in accordance with the point at which the sun crosses the horizon at sunset on the winter solstice.
The structures themselves are conceived of in anthropomorphic terms, likening sikienta to men and women and naming their components after parts of the human body.
Sikien were recognized at the Green Solutions Awards during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021.
Ibrahim Tchan, who nominated Koutammakou to the World Monuments Watch, attended the conference, where sikien were recognized by the prize jury for their potential to serve as contemporary climate solutions owing to their use of organic materials and their natural cooling effect.
Koutammakou’s World Heritage listing is a major step—but it currently covers less than half of the cultural landscape’s full extent.
Although the majority of Koutammakou actually lies in Benin, only the portion in Togo has received UNESCO recognition. In 2020, World Monuments Fund (WMF) named Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba, as one of its Watch sites and is working to have the listing extended so that the entirety of Koutammakou receives the same protections.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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