It was only thanks to the “Brazilians” that this part of West Africa entered the era of durable construction, with buildings made of bricks, adopting the same techniques and styles as employed in Brazil in the nineteenth century.1 Two-story houses seem to have constituted the high-point of the architectural developments. The first house with an upper floor built in Benin outside the Portuguese fort seems to have been Francisco Félix de Souza’s Ouidah residence, which no longer exists. It was known as Singbomey, derived from the word singbo, which means two-story house. He had another two-story building erected at the same time at the entrance to the palace of King Ghezo in Abomey, called Sigboji, which still stands.
Fine commercial and residential buildings in the so-called Brazilian colonial style were erected, especially in Ouidah, Porto-Novo, Ague, Grand-Popo, and, on a smaller scale, throughout the whole Slave Coast. These are the country’s oldest buildings, but are now quite derelict for lack of maintenance. In Porto-Novo, the “Brazilians” were the owners of all the European-style buildings at the time of the French conquest, and rented them out to the colonial administration. This monopoly lasted until the early twentieth century, and was a cause of considerable friction when the colonial administrators reacted to what they took to be extortionate rent hikes.
One of the most remarkable examples of “Brazilian” architecture in Benin is the great mosque of Porto-Novo, concluded in 1930, with a facade that is a perfect copy of a baroque church in Bahia, Brazil, simply topped by a minaret.
When major cultural change comes about, lifestyles are also altered, and vice versa. With the changes in construction styles came the introduction of new home furnishings and types of furniture. Throughout practically the whole nineteenth century, joinery and stonemasonry was the almost exclusive domain of enslaved Africans who had returned to their homelands having mastered their techniques and construction styles in Brazil. This is borne out by the few objects that have survived to the current day.
Residência agudá - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Aguê, Benim
Residência agudá - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Villa A. Carlos, quarteirão Dègue - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Héritiers Abbou Samilala, Quarteirão Dègue - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Residência agudá, quarteirão Attakè - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Residência agudá, casa Héritiers, Lawani A. Fagbemi - 31 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim