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Béhanzin, The Last King of Dahomey, Benin

King Behanzin

King Behanzin

” Clever, vindictive, an excessive pride ” are  qualifiers used by the enemies of Africa to describe the king Behanzin. This reflect the strong character of this giant who was determined to battle against the European occupation.

It was in the 17th century that Fon tribe conquered the lands of the current Chief “Dan”  in Benin and founded the kingdom of Danhomey. This is what led to the name Dan-Homé which means   ” In the belly of “Dan ” because  it is in the town of Abomey that the remains of Dan are  buried . The name Danhomé became Frenchified by the colonizers and turned it into Dahomey. Fon conqueror being of Yoruba origin ,  Fon are therefore of Egyptian origin as Yorubas lineage is rooted back to Egypt.

Map of the Kingdoms

Map of the Kingdoms

The Fon built a dynamic and true civilization , governed by Mawu (God) , God’s principles ( Vaudoun ) and their ancestors . During that time, the kingdom was ruled by a king exercising power by divine right, supported by an assembly of men and women . Contrary to what is said , Danhomé didn’t make a fortune during their  collaboration with European slavers. They were very lenient about participating into the slave trades and fought as much as they could for their people not to be taken away. Those that were sent away however, were captured fighters or unruly citizens amongst them.

1894 - French colonizers and King Béhanzin

1894 – French colonizers and King Béhanzin

Two centuries later , King Glélé signed an agreement with the French , putting the territory of  Cotonou under their administration . But Glélé , exercising his moral rights in that territory , complained of the installation of a French customs and became hostile about their presence . The angry king renounced agreements . The French were forced to negotiate but weren’t successful. They’ve decided to ask the collaboration of Prince Kondo in 6125 (1889) , the future King Béhanzin . It was then that one of the greatest resistance to the European invasion entered the scene .

King Behanzin and his Wives

King Behanzin and his Wives

The Shark - Symbol of King Behanzin

The Shark – Symbol of King Behanzin

Kondo showered the French with insults and showed his intransigence . They came into town armed and to protect their position in Benin. On the death of king  Glélé , prince Kondo ascended the throne by taking the name of Behanzin , which meant “The universe holds the egg the earth desires .” This is a reference to the “egg being in the center of creating the universe; this is a theory has also been used by the   Debnen in the ancient Egyptians. All Kings in Benin use a symbol to characterize themselves. Behanzin symbolism was for the shark and his motto was ” The angry shark will terrorize it enemy” . This was a warning to all enemies as well as his way to show his willingness in defending the land of his ancestors against the French .

At the head of an army of 15,000 men, the king could also count on an army of 4,000 women and ruthless killer . Called Mino or the Amazons of Benin. They were his bodyguards and he was always surrounded by them during his expeditions. Headed by a General , they were fanatical about the divine personality of the sovereign. The French, through their military reinforcement, expelled the Danhoméans from Cotonou , which provoked the king Behanzin and started the beginning of a two-year war . The king attacked Cotonou and encircled the pro- French quarters of Porto -Novo. Behanzin also took hostage French living in Ouidah. This forced the French colons to have the first delegation and negotiate an end to hostilities. After negotiations , earlier treaties were respected and the king Behanzin obligated them to pay an annual fee for the occupation of Cotonou. Ignoring the local customs, the French went to greet Béhanzin with palm branches , hoping their apologies would be accepted . They were  surprised to be ridiculed as the Dahoméans didn’t believe their sincerity .

Amazons of Dahomey

Amazons of Dahomey

 

This agreement gave both sides time to reorganize their forces and Behanzin , breaking the treaty , attacked the territories under French administration after acquiring 5000 guns. Replying to the letter of protest from the French authorities , Behanzin said:

Have I ever been to France and declared a war against you? I will remain in my country. “ 

France refused to pay the annual fee in the agreements made and President Sadi Carnot ordered  a Franco-Senegalese  Colonel Alfred Dodds to end the Kingdom of Danhomé . Behanzin heard the news of the French decision to attack them and said,

“I am the king of Blacks and Whites have nothing to do with what I do . Villages which you speak of are mine.They belong to me and I want them to be independent. I would like to know how independent French villages were broken by me ? King of Dahomey .”

The Kingdom dealt with some internal issues. The men’s assembly refused entry into the war. However, the women’s assembly, the fearless Amazons of Benin, agreed to fight for Danhomé and were also able to convinced men to ratify their decision .

French attack in Dahomey

French attack in Dahomey

Dodds at the head of a sophisticated heavy weapons , and leading compounds of French legionnaires and African infantry troops, bombarded Abomey Calavi , Ouidah and Godomey . Behanzin, at the head of an army which is also  supported by the Belgians and Germans , resisted heroically . Women and men of Danhomé fought hard and weren’t threatened by the French military superiority. All forces were laid to protect the royal palace Djehoué in an extremely bloody battle , forcing the withdrawal of French . On the morning of 4 November 6128, Béhanzin sent all able-bodied men and the remaining Amazons warriors to defend his capital. The tragic result he had to face after the battle was the death of  4000 warriors and 800 wounded.

King Behanzin and his wives leaving Marseille for Algeria

King Behanzin and his wives leaving Marseille for Algeria

Behanzin and his wives in MartiniqueHe was forced to leave town and it was the end of the Danhomean Kingdom after nearly 400 years of existence . Two years later, the king went into exile and was deported to Martinique with his family before being transferred to Blida in Algeria , where he died in 6142 . His remains were repatriated in Cotonou in 6164 .

Arrival of Behanzin with his family in Martinique

Arrival of Behanzin with his family in Martinique

 

Behanzin is an extraordinary example of great African leaders that resisted the integration of colonizers on the continent. Some chose to work with the colonizers and help them get slaves. In Benin, the Kings fought hard to not give them power and abuse them for any reasons. In addition, the people of Benin took an important role by participating and fighting for the country and their freedom.

Monument in the town of Abomey of King Behanzin. It says: " I will never accept to sign any treaty making us susceptible by alienating the independence of the ancestor's land"

Monument in the town of Abomey of King Behanzin. It says: ” I will never accept to sign any treaty making us susceptible by alienating the independence of the ancestor’s land”

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One comment on “Béhanzin, The Last King of Dahomey, Benin

  1. Pingback: Royal Cloths and Totems of Benin | Unseen Benin

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