The Kingdom of Dahomey and the route of the slaves of Ouidah


There are two sites declared World Heritage by Unesco that Benin has. It's been almost two weeks since we visited the first, the wild life of the P.N. of Pendjari and today we have reached theRoyal Palaces of Abomey, the legacy of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey that between 1625 and 1900 succeeded thirteen kings on the throne with an army of women soldiers, the Amazons of Dahomey but, above all, as the center of the slave trade that we all have associated with the era of European colonialism but which, nevertheless, began in these lands there by the 18th century.

From there, as Xavi (representative in Spain of Loana Travel) it starts"one of the most shocking moments of the trip, the one that arrives at the 'door of no return' of Oudiah". Grand Popó, Godomé, Cotonou or Semé-Kpodji were important ports of the so-called Slave Coast but Oudiah represents the most slavering past in the country where a 4 km circuit of "black boxes", mass graves and symbolic gates shows you the most terrifying itinerary of slaves on their way to the Caribbean, Brazil or the southern United States as a mere cargo. It could perfectly be called "the slave route" ...

The Kingdom of Dahomey and the origin of the slave trade

A trip to the cradle of voodoo would not be complete without the journey we are going to live today. Does everyone associate voodoo with Benin and this area of ​​the Gulf of Guinea? Probably not. It is possible that the derivative of Haiti, the Rule of Ocha or Santería in Cuba, among other Caribbean and South American countries, even in New Orleans or the Holliwoodense voodoo, carry the sharpest affirmations of their roots. However, as we have seen, the millenary religion of voodoo that has opened its doors to us these days is originally from this part of West Africa although there is a phenomenon that we have passed "on tiptoe" and that led to his liturgy and beliefs especially for America ... The cruel slavery of indigenous people in the era of colonialism! Today, from Abomey to the 'door of no return' of Ouidah we will look for the traces of one of the most shameful chapters of humanity that are still wounded to heal.

It didn't take long to have breakfast, say goodbye to Cové and put towards the famous and well-known Royal Palaces of Abomey. It has been a good time to read a little about its history and thus better contextualize what we are going to find. The first thing that Abomey's name comes from a wall that surrounds a space and from this derived to Dahomey. In fact, this defense system is still accessible even though the few tourists that arrive are barely approaching. We do ...

So are the exteriors of other palaces but not inside. Euloge has thought it important to make a stop to see the magnitude of the legacy that remains there were a dozen built here in his time of splendor and only one of the kings decided not to build his palace in this space, King Akaba.

The Kingdom of Dahomey existed for a little less than 300 years within what we now know as Benin. You can place its beginnings around the year 1,600 as self defense movement by the adja ethnicity, against the "hunt" of slaves. It was a kind of revolution by the population. The route we have followed It may be similar to the following ...

However, the legend or tradition about the origin of the Kingdom of Dahomey comes much earlier, of those three children that King Kopon of Allada had: Meji, Té Agbanlin and Gangnihessou from whom we saw their roots on "Kpalimé, trekking through the tropical forest to the magical Kebo Dzigbe "in Togo.

There were, as in all the great and transcendental stories of the world, let's say "problems with succession." Finally it was Meji who succeeded the father, Té Agbanlin moved to the south of the country where he founded Adjatché, what we now know as Porto Novo. And finally,Gangnihessou settled in Abomey, which later became the Kingdom of Dahomey and in whose palaces we are going to enter now, the palaces of Ghezo and Glelé.

It is important to know that it is not allowed to enter with the camera. In fact, we are requisitioned even if not by mobile phones in order to contextualize this story a bit. Although we are really in a museum considered one of the richest in black Africa, there is still worship and sacred veneration in its enclosure as we can see as soon as we enter a large courtyard.

His Kingdom is well known Amazons or women's army. It was created during the reign of Agadja (1708-1740) because there were not enough men for the army, so women joined as well. Those women who joined the army had to "meet" certain requirements: they must be either they should be virgins or be subjected to celibacy, since they were considered as wives of the king; they must be athletic and strong, although sometimes they also included slaves. This is important because the four hundred female guards of Mongkut, the king of Siam or the harem of men who had the fearsome 17th-century Angolan queen Nzinga de Matamba who were said to drink the blood of the Portuguese, but few references are known of these Agadja females who they called themselves Ahosi or Mino, the "Wives of the King" or "Our mothers" in the Fon language.

BRUSHED TO UNDERSTAND A JOURNEY TO BENIN and TOGO (VOL13): The Kings of the Kingdom of Dahomey (1600-1900)

Thirteen kings and the history of the reign passed through the Kingdom of Dahomey and, therefore, that of their kings is like a story, like a movie. To understand a little better what this reign lived we will give some references of how each king participated and contributed to the story of Dahomey:

- Gangnihessou: with whom are the first beginnings of what, in a few years, would be a kingdom. He settled in Abomey, what would be the center of Dahomey.
- Dakodonou: did not contribute anything remarkable. It only served as a link between the previous king and his son, Aho.
Ah or: it was he who laid the foundations of the reign and who raised him. He was a very efficient and organized king.
Akaba: attacked the Wemé river area. He was the only king who did not want to build his palace within the space that is now known as Royal Palaces of Abomey.
Agadja: He secured international sovereignty for Dahomey and was the one who incorporated women into the army, known as Amazons.
- Tegbessou: based the economy of the kingdom only on the slave trade. He was a little warrior king.
- Kpengla: There is virtually no data on his participation in history.
- Agonglo: was murdered. Nothing remarkable
- Adandozan: After the assassination of the previous king and the fall of this, the problems of the kingdom became increasingly noticeable.
- Ghézo: He was a great statesman who solved the crisis in which the kingdom had entered with the Nigerian kingdom. He started marketing with palm oil.
- Glélé: It was much more delicious than the previous one and less concerned with the economy of the kingdom.
- Behanzin: with him the problems with the French began
- Agoli: He replaced Behanzin, for he had been punished for treason.

Each, with its peculiarities, built the history of the Kingdom of Dahomey. The ones that stood out the most and that sound the most when talking about the kingdom are Aho, who was the one who built the kingdom as such, Agadja, for the introduction of women in the army and Behanzin, because it was who was during the negotiations with the French and all the conflicts that they maintained with these.

Kingdom army he got to have more women than men (although on a regular basis it was the opposite) and they are said to be especially violent: they cut off their victims' heads and drank their blood. They remained in the army until the fall of the empire but their legend and trace remain in history for their bravery and courage in war.

The walk through the museum rooms lets us appreciate a very courtly art but, above all, some amazing bass reliefs. On the walk you can see upholstery, carpets, cannons bought from the colonizers, ...

... and, above all, thrones, including some perched on HUMAN SKULLS!

The kingdom of Dahomey (which ceased to be a kingdom and was renamed "Colonia de Dahomey") came to its end with the French colonization between 1895 and 1898, although the figure of royalty remains only as a ceremonial and protocol concept. In 1904 this colony was incorporated into French West Africa. He achieved his independence in 1960 and fifteen years later, in 1975 was renamed the People's Republic of Benin.

TheRoyal Palaces of Abomey have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. They are such a precious asset because they are the only memory and sample of the monarchical dynasty of the Kingdom of Dahomey ... and perhaps also the only vestige of the story of how the slave trade began and its subsequent sale to Portuguese, French or British already in the S.XVII, XVIII and until well advanced the S.XIX

Ouidah, the slave route to the 'door of no return'

We have come to eat around noon. Euloge has proposed us to do it in a building also converted into a museum that shows the Afro-Brazilian influence in the architecture of the area. Is called Villa Ajavon and was built in 1922 by a rich Togolese merchant. In addition to a good cold beer, they offer us a kind of cocktail that is rather a juice. We paid around 9,000 CFA which is the most expensive of the trip but it has been increased because they have charged us coffee at 2,000 CFA (something like 3 EUR for a small cut). I think I haven't paid so much in Venice itself.

Are you ready? Located on the coast of the country of Benin, Ouidah is considered the cradle of voodoo although the entire coast of this country is considered so (as you have seen throughout all these newspapers). Here the great voodoo festival is celebrated every January. However, walking through the streets of Ouidah is a full-fledged history class. It is amazing how well the city itself has everything that was lived there. A sad and little human story about slavery and the abandonment of your native country although before it is time to make a "tourist" that is to visit the famous temple of the pythons I DIDN'T LIKE IT IN ABSOLUTE.

Basically, it is an enclosure with a sacred tree where pythons are venerated as they think they bring prosperity and good harvests. There they explain that they are released once a month by the people, also at night to eat rats and what they catch and finally you enter a cabin with a pit where they are sleeping, all barefoot.

It all ends with a sad "show" where pythons hang on your neck so you can take a picture, which I refused. Anyway ... I guess this kind of thing is still happening in Rome or Benin. We pass word and we return to history. Remember that before crossing the border, after visiting Togoville, we approached to see the "Maison des Esclaves or Wood Homé, a monument to the human tragedy of slavery" in Togo that left us very touched, with that basement where they were treated as mere merchandise. That was NOTHING.

From this point it begins the route of the slaves, the most shocking route followed by those captured before leaving by boat to their destinations, without returning home ... without hope. Everything started at Chacha Square and reached the so-called 'no return door' ...

1 Chacha Square:This was the place where “slaves” from different parts of Africa arrived and where an “auction” was held (in quotes because we think it is horrible to just think of buying / selling a human person) They were treated as if they were a product , merchandise If this tree spoke it would have a lot of history to tell about "Chacha", nickname of Francisco Félix de Souza (Brazilian of Portuguese origin) who was considered in high esteem by the king of Dahomey.

2 Tree of Oblivion: the "slaves" were forced to go 9 laps around this tree (men 9 and women 7 laps) with the intention that they will forget everything, including its origins. This procedure was part of a voodoo tradition.

3 Zamai House: an uninhabitable place where the “slaves” were forced to be locked up, without light, food and drink scarce and minimal… In short, terrible and horrible conditions, depriving them of all their dignity and humanity. It was about looking for the conditions in which they would go on the ship in which they would be transferred to Europe or America.

4 Common pit: as a cruel end for those who did not overcome the Zamai House and left it in bad conditions and no longer "fit" to be shipped ...

Sele and I are silent and really overwhelmed with everything Euloge is explaining to us. We are aware, as is everyone, that from these coasts more than 2 million black slaves left but we did not know the implication beyond the surface. Portuguese, French and British fundamentally, bought the captures of the Kingdom of Dahomey that they sold as merchandise without any kind of humanity. Perhaps it is time to stop along the way and take advantage of an area of ​​salt flats near Ouidah beach to enjoy a nice canoe.

It was a necessary paragraph, but also to say that we almost overturned which would have been great to finish a complicated day in terms of feelings.

Now it is time to get to the sea. The Slave Coast is a symbol of what was the history of West Africa. It was baptized during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries with this name for being that important area in the commercialization of slaves moved to America and Europe although it is currently known simply as the Gulf of Guinea.

5 The 'door of no return':This point is simply shocking, the same one that Xavi used to tell us before leaving, a place where "all that merchandise" was crammed in ships, without light, with little hope of being able to survive the crossing (1 in 3 died), To never come back

Today, this monument serves to honor the memory of all those people who were subjected to slavery and never returned home, a symbol to keep the history of this place alive.

Casualties of life here we are in this place to a "boss" who knows Euloge with a heated argument with a tourist of the few we have found. From time to time, they visit this place to know the history of their ancestors and, indeed, not to forget. Today "his head has gone a bit" and he has taken advantage of the passage of a British girl to put in front what his ancestors did. Perhaps what he doesn't know is that it all started with some of his people in that fearsome Kingdom of Dahomey. Either way, Euloge calms him down.

This Slaves' route from the Kingdom of Dahomey to Dahomey's' door of no return 'has left us speechless and our host who is very smart knows it. That's why he has also chosen theHotel of the Diaspora so that we enjoy a good dinner (6,000 CFA) and leave the morning free to enjoy the beaches of Benin, its pool and at least half a day of relaxation that seat everything we have lived being today, possibly, one of the most shocking of this trip (and that has not been missing anything). Do not you think it is one of the most complete trips we have made?

Isaac (and Sele), from Ouidah (Benin)

EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 15,000 CFA (approx. 22.73 EUR)