UNSEEN BENIN

The place to Explore Benin and its Culture

Royal Cloths and Totems of Benin

 

Totem of the 12 Kings of Dahomey - Benin

Totem of the 12 Kings of Dahomey – Benin

In Benin, many of the Kings that rules Dahomey are represented by Totem. These totems can be seen throughout the country especially in the areas where the Royal palaces are. Nowadays, it is common to see them integrated on traditional clothing or turned into flags. They make great souvenirs as it is not only educating but the clothes on which the totems are sewn or integrated in  are done using traditional hand weaving method put together by the locals and by also using raw unbleached organic cotton from the regions of Benin.

Tisserand or Artisanal fabric Sewer

Tisserand or Artisanal Fabric Sewer

The cloths expose all symbols related to the Kings of the kingdom of Abomey in Benin 1620-1900. They also tell the story of the region as well as a reflection of the rulers’ characters.  All fabrics are hand-sewn and patterns arise from the superposition of small pieces of colored fabric sewn on top of each other . The fabric sewers are called Tisserand  in Benin.

Fon appliqué workers in 1971, Abomey, Republic of Benin

Fon appliqué workers in 1971, Abomey, Republic of Benin

King GANGNI XESU : 1620

It is symbolized by a bird and a tam -tam . This bird is known under the name of Saswé and is renowned for its greed : he leaves nothing to his opponent (as the prince done ) .

King Gangni

King Gangni

 King DAKO DONU : 1620-1645

It is symbolized by a jar of indigo . The  Jar refers to an historical event where Dako Donu surprised his enemy Aizo who was then preparing indigo. He killed him , put his body in the jar and carried it out. The core message refers to the idea of ​​domination.

King Dako Donu

King Dako Donu

King HWEGBEADJA : 1645-1685

It is represented by a fish trapped in a fishnet. This refers to when was prince had escaped a trap that in which he was caught.

King HWEGBEADJA

King HWEGBEADJA

King AKABA : 1685-1708

It is symbolized by a chameleon , a boar or pig. The chameleon symbolizes has to do with the long wait the king  had to endure in order to gain the throne .

King AKABA

King AKABA

King AGADJA : 1708-1732

It is represented by a boat as it is during his reign that the Kingdom of Abomey had its first contact with Europeans sailors arriving on the land of Dahomey.

King AGADJA

King AGADJA

King TEGBESU : 1732-1789

It is represented by a dressed buffalo. A dressed buffalo is difficult to undress. This refers to an attempted poisoning scheme that was done by poisoning his clothes.

King TEGBESU

King TEGBESU

King KPENGLA : 1774-1789

It is represented by either a rifle or a bird and the refers to the battle  that took place with the Kingdom of Kpengla .

King KPENGLA

King KPENGLA

King AGONGLO : 1789-1797

It is represented by a pineapple that symbolizes the prudent and conservative nature of this king. According to him, anything that is small is not an easy target to reach.

King AGONGLO

King AGONGLO

King GUEZO : 1818-1858

It is represented by a buffalo or a ram. A Buffalo is a  powerful and strong animal with a reckless character. Therefore, one should avoid encountering them. This was King Guezo’s way of warning and keeping  enemies away from his kingdom.

King GUEZO

King GUEZO

King GLELE : 1858 -1889

It is symbolized by the lion because he was a fearless and fierce king.

King GLELE

King GLELE

King  BEHANZIN: 1889-1894

It is represented by a shark and an egg. Our world has produced an egg and only the earth feels the weight . The motto means: “Here is the awaited king that will achieve great things”.

King Behanzin

King Behanzin

King AGOLI AGBO : 1894-1900

It is represented by a leg hitting a rock. Abomey struggled with it independency but did not surrender to the French . This king was put on the throne by the French who helped him beat his predecessor. This symbolism was made to show his gratitude to the French.

King AGOLI AGBO

King AGOLI AGBO

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2 comments on “Royal Cloths and Totems of Benin

  1. Maktuben
    March 5, 2017

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I would love to know if one could buy these online somewhere?

    • Leila Abdoulaye
      May 17, 2017

      Thank you for reading my blog. Unfortunately the best way to get ahold of the Fabric is when you visit the country. There are a few artisanal places where it can be purchased. There is also a brand called Olowou Print that makes very unique items from Benin using organic unbleached Cotton. I believe they have a shore in the US.

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