A kingdom in West Africa, founded in the early 1600s and reaching its height in the mid 1800s. It was defeated by the French in the 1890s and annexed. It became an independent republic in 1960, and the name was changed to Benin in 1975: see there for the modern country.

There are several legends of foundation, one of which says that the royal compound was built over the grave of a King Dan (Dan-home 'on the belly of Dan'). Dahomey became a powerful state and expanded rapidly. The capital was Abomey. It conquered the port of Ouidah, (English Whydah) in 1727 and was thus enabled to engage in the slave trade. However, their depredations led to attack by the Yoruba state of Oyo, and they became a vassal of Oyo until 1818.

Under King Ghezo the kingdom of Dahomey reached its height. They took the port of Porto-Novo (the capital of modern Benin). A commercial treaty with France was concluded in 1851. But after Ghezo's death Porto-Novo became a French protectorate in 1863 and the largest town Cotonou was ceded in 1878. Efforts to recover them led to war with France in 1890-4, led by General Alfred Dodds, and King Behanzin was exiled to Martinique. In 1900 the protectorate kingdom was abolished and Dahomey was absorbed into French West Africa.

The fort of Ouidah (São João Baptista de Ajudá) had been a Portuguese possession since 1680, and remained so until 1961. The Viceroy helped to install King Ghezo, and the viceroyalty became hereditary, and director of customs and the slave trade. The first viceroy, Francisco da Souza, died in 1849; on his death, human sacrifices were offered for him.

Dahomey was famous for its elite corps of female warriors ("Amazons"). Nominally royal wives and originally palace bodyguards, they became a highly trained, regimented, and disciplined body, renowned for ferocity in battle, in which they used muskets and machetes, right up until the French conquest of 1892.

There was an annual festival called the Customs, at which the king dispensed justice, answered petitions, reviewed laws, and consulted vodun priests. In order to ascertain the opinion of dead kings and lawmakers, messengers were sent to the world of the dead: prisoners who had messages whispered in their ears before being executed. Vodun priests interpreted answers.

Britain began raids against the Slave Coast in 1840, and blockaded it in 1876, but slavery and human sacrifice continued within Dahomey.

The Kings of Dahomey were:

Some early history of Dahomey is at http://www.pangloss.ca/flashman/Ghezo.html. This is from a Canadian Flashman society, because Flashman's adventures in Flash for Freedom include a run-in with Dahomean slavers.

Another good site is http://www.concentric.net/~Jeffnaus/kings.htm, which has symbolic tapestry descriptions of the twelve kings as well as details of their reigns.

And of course there is Bruce Chatwin's The Viceroy of Ouidah, telling the story of da Souza, whom he calls da Silva.

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