Abomey was the capital of the Fon Kingdom of Dahomey, which flourished from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The two remaining palace complexes, richly decorated with mythological motifs and sculptures, as well as the royal tombs are reminiscent of the feudal rule of the empire, whose wealth was based, among other things, on the slave trade.
Abomey Royal Palaces: Facts
|Official title:||Abomey Royal Palaces|
|Cultural monument:||today only 2 of the original 14 palaces are largely preserved; Palace area surrounded by 6 m high walls with the holy palace courtyard, the “hut of the king’s spirit” and “the spirit of the king’s mother”, the cult hut with the altar of royalty; pictorial relief representations on the palace buildings, among others. about the first contacts with the Europeans, or symbols like bird and drum or fish and fish trap for the individual rulers; inside the throne house seven thrones, including that of Ghezo, who rests on silver-framed skulls|
|Country:||Benin, see indexdotcom|
|Location:||Abomey (Dahomey), north of Cotonou|
|Meaning:||Evidence of the once powerful kingdom of Abomey from the 17th to the 20th centuries.|
Abomey Royal Palaces: History
|around 1620||Foundation of the Kingdom of Fon with the capital Abomey|
|1625||Dako first king of Abomey|
|1728-1818||Reign of the kings Tegbesu, Kengala, Agongolo and Adandozan; The heyday of the slave trade|
|1878||Treaty between King Glele and France to cede the territory of Cotonou|
|1889-94||King Behanzin; Resistance to the “protectorate” of France|
|1894||Final French colonization and exile of Béhanzin|
|1906||King Behanzin’s death in Algiers|
|1944||Converting the palaces of King Ghezo and Glele into museums|
|2009||Serious damage to several buildings from a fire on January 21, 2009|
The sons of the leopard
Anyone who expects palaces in our sense may be disappointed, as the original palace city was destroyed during the French conquest in 1892: Today there are only a few inconspicuous buildings and a small temple, built of mud, which is said to have been made with the blood of the enemies of the kingdom Dahomey was soaked. For centuries the kings with their court and their soldiers, the famous Amazons Dahomeys, resided here; the rulers were buried here too.
Originally, all buildings were thatched and some of the outside was decorated with colored images. These bas-reliefs can also be seen on the walls of today’s museum, in which, among other things, the famous throne of King Ghezo is shown, which rests on four silver-plated skulls, as well as the traditional fabric applications, whose colorful images tell the story of Dahomeys, fetishes of the god of war as well iron steles that represent the deceased.
The boundary between the living and the dead has always been porous in Dahomey. Once a year, ceremonies for the royal ancestors are held for several nights in the palace courtyard. Every evening, chaired by the current king, the descendants of all those who had rank and name in old Dahomey come together. Drums and chants sound, and the kings return to the living for a few hours in the form of white-clad dancers.
This return is preceded by bull sacrifices, which replaced the original human sacrifices. “The bulls are like people,” explains the visitor from outside, “they are brought in alive, the ceremony begins in front of their eyes and is only killed at the end. In the hereafter they will rise again and report to the kings that food and drink will be ready. ”
Because people used to do this messenger service, Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries viewed the annual ancestral ceremony as the height of barbarism. “In Dahomi,” wrote the British Robert Norris in 1790, “the king is absolute master of the life, freedom, and property of his subordinates, and he plays with it willfully and in the wildest and cruelest way. Piles of their heads are piled up in front of the gates of the palace on festive days for decoration. ”
Such horror stories did not detract from the trade with the Fon kings. After all, they supplied the raw material most sought after at the time: since the 17th century they had been supplying whites with slaves for the plantations of the New World and in exchange for alcohol, cloth and other European manufactured goods, but above all firearms. With these they went to the field against their less armed neighbors. In turn, they invested the proceeds from the sale of the prisoners of war in new weapons for new wars.
Over the course of a good two centuries, the Fon kings, whose lineage, according to tradition, began with the liaison between a princess and a leopard, were able to expand the empire of their ancestors step by step. A tightly organized and thoroughly militarized state emerged from the small, insignificant Dahomey.
It was only when the European colonial powers divided the black continent among themselves that the kingdom came to an end: “After numerous battles, the French expeditionary corps captured your capital and expelled King Behanzin from it. His army has been destroyed and his power shattered once and for all. The fate of the people of Dahomey is from now on in the hands of France (…). ”
That was on November 18, 1892: Against the bitter resistance of the royal troops, a French expeditionary force had fought its way from the coast to Abomey within two months. Hamburg merchants had built up King Béhanzin’s army and received several thousand prisoners from Dahomeys as “voluntary workers” who were deported to Cameroon and the Congo, but neither they nor Prussian military aid from neighboring Togo, nor the heroism of the famous Amazons prevent defeat.