History Files
 

 

African Kingdoms

West Africa

 

 

 

Kingdom of Dahomey / Dahomania
AD 17th Century - 1894

Situated in western Africa, the kingdom of Dahomey (or Abomey in its earliest years) was formed by a mixture of various local ethnic groups on the Abomey plain. The tribal groups, possibly forced to move due to the slave trade, coalesced around a highly centralised, strict military culture which was aimed at securing and eventually expanding the borders of the small kingdom. It also practised human sacrifice in large numbers and traded captives to the slave traders who prospered along its coastline, which was part of the notorious Slave Coast.

The kingdom covered the southern third of the modern republic of Benin, and it bore its name until 1975, when it was neutrally renamed the republic of Benin to appease the large number of ethnic groups which formed part of the relatively new state. Dahomey bore no relation to the Benin empire. It was the kingdom of the Fon people, one of the groups which formed the modern Benin state.

When the Nubians conquered Meroë at the start of the sixth century BC, some of the Meroë fled west and ended up establishing themselves in what is now Nigeria and Benin. This is known because the priesthood in these countries uses technical words which are Semitic. One of these is 'Al' as a prefix, used in the names of their spirits (angels). The word also lent itself to the name of the medieval state of Alodia.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson.)

by c.1650

A group of Aja from the coastal kingdom of Allada had previously moved northwards to settle amongst the Fon people of the interior, and by this date they have gained dominance and declare a kingdom.

? - 1620

Gangnihessou

Declared the founding of the kingdom.

1620 - 1645

Dakodonou

1645

Ganye Hessu

1645 - 1685

Houegbadja / Wegbaja

1685 - 1708

Akaba

m Hanebe, who apparently co-ruled.

1708 - 1740

Agadja

Agadja conquered the kingdom of Allada,

1730

Despite conquering his ancestral homeland in Allada, the king is unable to defeat the neighbouring kingdom of Oyo, and Dahomey becomes tributary to it, although in all other respects it retains its independence.

Dahomey tribes people
Dahomey tribes people photographed for Hubert Howe Bancroft's The Book of the Fair, published in Chicago in 1893

1740 - 1774

Tegbessou

1774 - 1789

Kpengla

1789 - 1797

Agonglo

1797 - 1818

Adandozan

1818 - 1856

Ghezo

by 1850

Dahomey increasingly loses its status as the regional power.

1856 - 1889

Glele

1889 - 1894

Behanzin

1892 - 1894

The French begin take control of the territory during the Dahomey War using mainly African troops, quite possibly from neighbouring tribes only too happy to end the kingdom's dominance of the region.

1894 - 1898

Agbo Agoli

French vassal.

1894 - 1958

Dahomey is incorporated along with many other West African states into France's West Africa colony.

1958

The state is granted autonomy as the republic of Dahomey, followed by full independence two years later. A period of instability follows, with Marxism-Leninism being adopted as the official ideology.

Modern Dahomey / Benin
AD 1960 - Present Day

The kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa was ended by French colonial occupation in 1894, after they took control during the Dahomey War of 1892-1894. The state was granted autonomy as the republic of Dahomey in 1958, followed by full independence in 1960. A period of instability followed, with Marxism-Leninism being adopted as the official ideology. However, the country continued to bear its old name until 1975, when it was neutrally renamed the republic of Benin to appease the large number of ethnic groups which formed part of the relatively new modern state. The name came from the Bight of Benin, which itself gained its name from the Benin empire.

Today the country is one of Africa's most stable democracies, although it is severely under-developed and corruption is rife. Elements of voodoo, which are still practised in countries such as Haiti, originated from the West African coast which includes Benin. The religion is celebrated on the country's annual Voodoo Day. Today the country is bordered by Togo in the west, Burkina Faso to the north-west, Niger to the north-east, and Nigeria to the east.

1972

The country has experienced almost continuous strife following independence, overseen by a democratic government which has seen frequent changes in ruler. In 1972, a military coup led by Mathieu Kérékou overthrows the ruling council and establishes a Marxist government.

1972 - 1991

Mathieu Kérékou

Dictator. Stood down after free elections.

1975

Kérékou renames the country the People's Republic of Benin.

1979

Kérékou's Marxist military council is dissolved and elections take place, albeit with Kérékou as the only candidate allowed.

Mathieu Kérékou
Mathieu Kérékou in 2006, after the conclusion of his successful term as a democratically elected president of Benin

1989 - 1990

The country has undergone an economic crisis in a decade which forces Kérékou to abandon Marxism in favour of a parliamentary system. The following year the country's name is changed on 1 March to the Republic of Benin.

1991

Kérékou loses free elections to Nicéphore Soglo and steps down. He later stands for the 1996 elections, which he wins, and governs fairly, without attempting to change the new 1990 constitution to allow him to remain in power.

2006

Fully free and fair multi-party elections in the country draw international praise.