Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba, is located in West Africa, and straddles the border between Benin and Togo. The Batammariba people have occupied this area for hundreds of years, arriving there during the seventeenth or eighteenth century.
The smaller section of Koutammakou, in Togo, was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The larger section, in Benin, is not included in the listing and has no official protection or designation.
Today, challenges related to migration, population growth, urbanization, and climate change are threatening the Batammariba way of life by disrupting the perpetuation of living cultural traditions in Koutammakou.
The site was included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch to call for a new focus on the Batammariba people’s livelihoods and to address the factors that are contributing to social change for this community
In late 2020, World Monuments Fund (WMF) launched a project to ensure the survival of one of the most distinctive and characteristic cultural artifacts of the Batammariba people: the takienta.
The living product of a distinctive cultural expression, sikien (plural of takienta) serve as houses and places of worship (their main function today).
Despite variations in size and shape, sikien are built according to a single template or tradition, and specific core elements can be found in each takienta.
The houses generally consist of a cluster of mud structures—the typical takienta contains around eight—girdled together by a continuous mud wall.
The main entrance is always located on the west side, facing sunset during the winter solstice.
An open terrace located on the upper story of the takienta is often used for cooking and sleeping, particularly during the warmer summer months. Towers with thatched roofs can be used both as bedrooms and as granaries. The top of the thatched roofs can be removed to access the granaries below.
When a takienta is given a new layer of earth plaster, that layer is treated with a solution of water mixed with the bark of a local tree, called neri. This results in the creation of a thicker, plastic-like finish on the surface of the earthen construction which helps repel water.
The neri layer is also what gives the takienta its rich coloring.
Like many earthen buildings, the takienta structure is transitory and transforms every time it is re-plastered, challenging the traditional concept of preservation as preventing or slowing change.
For this reason, WMF’s project focused on the preservation of know-how related to the takienta building process and the transmission of traditional knowledge in Koutammakou.
The project had four main components: inventory, conservation, training, and tree-planting.
The first aspect of the project was to create a database of historic structures in Koutammakou, building towards a trans-boundary World Heritage designation for the site across Benin and Togo.
The inventory was completed in February 2021, and revealed that there are 2,537 sikien in Benin.