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Dahomey was an African kingdom situated in what is now Benin. The kingdom was founded in the seventeenth century and survived until the late nineteenth century, when it was conquered by French troops from Senegal and incorporated into France's West African colonies.

The origins of Dahomey can be traced back to a group of Aja from the coastal kingdom of Allada who moved northwards and settled among the Fon people of the interior. By about 1650, the Aja managed to dominate the Fon and Wegbaja declared himself king of their joint territory. Based in his capital of Agbome, Wegbaja and his successors succeeded in establishing a highly centralized state with a deep-rooted kingship cult of sacrificial offerings, including human sacrifices, to the ancestors of the monarch. All land was owned directly by the king, who collected taxes from all crops that were produced.

Economically, however, Wegbaja and his successors profited mainly from the slave trade and relations with slavers along the coast. As Dahomey's kings embarked on wars to expand their territory, they began using rifles and other firearms traded with French and Spanish slave-traders for young men captured in battle, who fetched a very high price from the European slave-merchants. Under King Agadja (ruled 1708-1732) the kingdom conquered Allada, where the ruling family originated, thereby gaining direct contact with European slave traders on the coast. Nevertheless, Agadja was unable to defeat the neighbouring kingdom of Oyo, Dahomey's chief rival in the slave trade, and in 1730, he became a tributary of Oyo, though he still managed to maintain Dahomey's independence.

Even as a tributary state, Dahomey continued to expand and flourish because of the slave trade and later through the export of palm oil from large plantations that emerged. Because of the economic structure of the kingdom, the land belonged to the king, who had a virtual monopoly on all trade.

As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighbouring peoples. Historian Walter Rodney estimates that by c.1770, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling captive African soldiers and even his own people to the European slave-traders. Most of this money was spent on British-made firearms (of very poor quality) and industrial-grade alcohol. Dahomey was finally conquered by France in 1892-1894. Most of the troops that fought against Dahomey were native African, and it has been surmised by several historians that neighbouring tribes, particularly the Yoruba, were only too happy to bring about the Kingdom's collapse in favour of liberal French rule.

In 1958 became an autonomous republic and gained full independence in 1960. The Republic of Dahomey changed its name to Benin in 1975.

Kings of Dahomey

See also:

edit Former French colonies, protectorate and possessions
Alaouites | Alexandretta | Algeria | Anjouan | Djibouti | France Antarctique | French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Gabon, Middle Congo, Oubangui-Chari) | French India (Chandernagore, Coromandel Coast, Malabar, Mahe, Pondichery, Karikal, Yanaon) | French Indochina (Annam, Cochinchina, Kampuchea, Laos, Tonkin) | French Togoland | French West Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey, French Sudan, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Upper Volta) | Inini | Kwang-Chou-Wan | Madagascar | New France (Acadia, Louisiana, Québec, Terre Neuve) | Saint-Domingue | Tunisia | Vanuatu
French colonisation of the Americas
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