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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kingdom of Dahomey
1600–1900
Capital Abomey
Language(s) Fon
Government Monarchy
Ahosu (King)
 - c. 1600-c. 1625 Do-Aklin
 - 1894-1900 Agoli-agbo
History
 - Established 1600
 - Disestablished February 12, 1900

Dahomey was the name of a country in west Africa now called the Republic of Benin. The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful west African state founded in the seventeenth century which survived until 1894. From 1894 until 1960 Dahomey was a part of French West Africa. The independent Republic of Dahomey existed from 1960-1975. In 1975, the country was re-named "The People's Republic of Benin" after the Bight of Benin (not the unrelated historical Kingdom of Benin) since "Benin", unlike "Dahomey", was deemed politically neutral for all ethnic groups in the state.[1]

Contents

Economy & Politics

The origins of Dahomey can be traced back to a group of Aja from the coastal kingdom of Allada who moved northward 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. These included an emphasis on human sacrifices in large numbers, to the ancestors of the monarch. Human sacrifices were not only made in time of war, pestilence, calamity, and on the death of kings and chiefs, they were also made regularly in the Annual Customs, believed to supply deceased kings with a fresh group of servants. Four thousand Whydahs, for example, were sacrificed when Dahomey conquered Whydah in 1727. Five hundred were sacrificed for Adanzu II in 1791. The sacrifices for Gezo went on for days. Human sacrifice was usually done by beheading, except in the case of the king's wives, who were buried alive. 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. They thus gained 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. By 1730, he became a tributary of Oyo. This means that Dahomey had to pay a yearly duty of heavy taxes, but otherwise remained mostly independent.

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. The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery, rather than killing them in the Annual Customs. Historian Walter Rodney estimates that by c.1770, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling captive Africans to the European slave traders. He spent most of the money on British-made firearms (of poor quality) and industrial-grade alcohol.

Gender & Sexuality

The Dahomean state became widely known for its corps of female soldiers. They were organized around the year 1729 to fill out the army & make it look larger in battle, armed only with banners. The women reportedly behaved so courageously that they became a permanent corps. In the beginning the soldiers were criminals pressed into service rather than being executed. Eventually, however, the corps became respected enough that King Ghezo ordered every family to send him their daughters, with the most fit being chosen as soldiers. Richard Francis Burton commented on the "masculine physique of the women, enabling them to compete with men in enduring toil, hardship and privations," and Alfred Ellis concurred that the female soldiers, "endured all the toil and performed all the hard labour."[2]

The women seem to have in fact considered themselves transformed into men, socially if not physically. At a parade in 1850, in which over 2,000 female soldiers participated, one of them began a speech by saying, "As the blacksmith takes an iron bar and by fire changes its fashion, so we have changed our nature. We are no longer women, we are men."[3] About two-thirds of the soldiers were unmarried, and Burton noted a "corps of prostitutes kept for the use of the Amazon-soldieresses."[4]

A similar switch of gender occurred amongst some men close to the royal court. Referred to as lagredis, the boys were chosen from among high ranking families and either castrated or given "potions" to feminize them. Richard Burton referred to them as "special slaves of the king, [who] bear the dignified title of royal wives."[5] These lagredis were as entirely dependent on the king as other wives, but seem to have had more freedom of movement. Two of them reportedly accompanied any emissary sent by the king, in order to serve as the royal eyes and ears on the mission.[6]

Colonial history

During the 19th century, European nations established colonies in Africa to exploit resources further and expand their economic influence. France conquered Dahomey during the Second Franco-Dahomean War (1892-1894) and established colonial government there. Most of the troops who fought against Dahomey were native African.

Under French rule, the educated class learned French and the language became widely used. This area is still part of French-speaking Africa.

Independence

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

In 1971, American novelist Frank Yerby published The Man From Dahomey, a historical novel set partially in Dahomey.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "WHKMLA : History of the Kingdom of Dahomey". www.zum.de. http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/westafrica/dahomeykgd.html. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  2. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands; Studies of African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York (1998). p. 103
  3. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands; Studies of African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York (1998). p. 104
  4. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands; Studies of African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York (1998). p. 103
  5. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands; Studies of African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York (1998). p. 102
  6. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands; Studies of African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York (1998). p. 102

References

  • Alpern, Stanley B. (1999). Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey. New York: New York University Press. p. 288 pages. ISBN 0-81470-678-9. 

Further reading

  • A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Benin Press, 1965, pp. 177-238.

External links

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Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Benin article)

From Wikitravel

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Location
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Flag
Image:bn-flag.png
Quick Facts
Capital Porto-Novo is the official capital; Cotonou is the seat of government
Government Republic under multiparty democratic rule
Currency Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)
Area total: 112,620 km2
water: 2,000 km2
land: 110,620 km2
Population 7,862,944 (July 2006 est.)
Language French (official), Fon, Yoruba, other tribal languages
Religion Indigenous beliefs (Animism & Voodoo) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%
Electricity 220
Calling Code 229
Time Zone GMT+1

Benin [1] is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north.

Understand

Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Voodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. The national parks of Benin are also well worth a visit for their wildlife. Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling.

History

The Portuguese arrived in Benin's territory in the fifteenth century, and established significant trading posts in Benin's coastal areas. Soon following the Portuguese came French, Dutch, and British traders. Over time Benin's coast developed into the largest center of the slave trade in Africa, run by the Fon people, who dominated the Dahomey government and actively sold their neighboring peoples to the Europeans. As the slave trade increased in volume (10,000–20,000 slaves shipped off per day), the coast of Benin became known as the Slave Coast. Around this time the port cities of Porto-Novo and Ouida were founded and quickly became the largest and most commercially active cities in the country, while Abomey became the Dahomey capital.

The fall of the Dahomey Kingom was precipitated by the banning of slavery throughout Europe in the mid-19th century, followed by the French annexation of the territory under colonial rule. Much of the Dahomey leadership broke even in the annexation, being appointed to top government posts throughout all the French colonies in West Africa. In 1960 Dahomey gained its independence, under the name République du Dahomey, which set off a long and destabilizing series of coups. In the course of just one decade, 1960—1972, the government changed hands nine times, and experienced four violent coups.

In 1972 Major Mathieu Kérékou, a staunch Marxist, organized the fourth of the military coups, and renamed the country the People's Republic of Benin. Kérékou's regime proved more successful at maintaining power, and reorganized the country on his interpretation of the Maoist model. In 1989 the French government, in exchange for financial support of Benin's flailing economy, persuaded the Benin government to abandon its one-party Socialist rule, and to move to a multiparty republic. In 1990 the country was renamed the Republic of Benin, and in 1991 Benin held its first free elections with significant success, and Kereku lost to Nicephore Soglo—Benin was thus the first African nation to successfully coordinate a peaceful transfer of power from a dictatorship to a functioning democracy. Soglo remained president through 1996, but his administration was marred by poor economic performance, leading to his electoral defeat to Mathieu Kérékou in 1996, who ruled the country and maintained popularity despite corruption scandals until 2006. The current president of Benin is today Yayi Boni, a technocrat who served under the tutelage of former President Soglo.

Climate

The equatorial south of Benin experiences two rainy seasons of the year, from April to mid July and from mid-September through the end of October. The rainy period in the subequatorial north runs from March until October. The best time of the year to visit the country is from November to February, when the temperature moderates, and the weather is dry with low humidity.

Geography

Benin, compared to its neighbors, is geographically smaller, being 112,620 square kilometers—the size of Honduras or the U.S. state of Ohio. The country is basically divided into five geographic zones, from south to north: the Coastal plain, the plateau, the elevated plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and fertile plains in the north.

Population

The nation consists of more than 60 ethnic groups. The major tribes include the Fon (40%), Aja (15%), and Yoruba (12%) in the south of the country, and the Bariba (9%), Somba (8%), and Fulbe (6%) in the north.

The most widespread religion is Christianity (43%), predominiantly in the south, and Islam in the north (24%). Most interesting for many visitors, however, is the strong influence of Vodun on Benin, practiced as a principal religion by a good 18% of the populace, and which was spread about the globe largely by the massive quantity of slaves exported by the Dagomey Kingdom.


  • Pendjari National Park

Get in

By plane

There are many international flights arriving at the main airport in Cotonou. From here you can connect to Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and a variety of cities in West Africa. In order to enter the country you will need proof that you have had a yellow fever shot, and this will need to be readily available at the airport.

By train

There are no train routes into Benin.

Get around

By bus

There is an extremely timely and reliable bus system that runs your average tour-style bus through every major city in Benin everyday, and even some in and out of Benin. Their are many major lines with a range of quality of buses. The main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes. Confort Lines seems to provide more of a variety of routes, and you even get some water and a little sandwich for long trips. Reservations for Confort Lines can be made in advance for 500f CFA at any regional office or by calling (001 229) 21.32.58.15. Bus lines run through: Porto-Novo, Cotonou, Calavey, Bohicon, Dassau, Parakou, Djougou, Natitingou, Tanguieta, Kandi, and even all the way up to Malanville.

Buses run on the two major paved roads running north and south, and you can have the bus stopped at any point you would like to get off at, and for differing rates. No discussion of prices is needed with the bus, as they used fixed rates. To give you an idea of prices, buses running from Cotonou to Natitingou (or vice versa) costs 7.500f CFA one way, and Cotonou to Parakou (or vice versa) costs 5.500f CFA. These are examples, because there are also buses that go as far as Tanguieta and Malanville.

By bush taxi

Bush Taxi is possible between most cities, every day in major cities, periodically for the more remote ones. The total price for long distances will be a little higher than by bus, and comfort and security are significantly lower. Drivers are often trying to maximize the number of people in the car so one can expect an intimate experience with the local population. However, bush taxis do offer flexibility that the bus systems do not; you can always find a taxi fairly quickly (at the autogarres). For trips of 3 hours (approx 150km) or less, a bush taxi might be a more flexible and reasonable option. Unlike the buses though, prices MUST be discussed in advance. Cost depends on the destination and price of gas. Ask other passengers what they are paying and always try to pay on arrival, although the latter is not always possible. A decent option for travelers not trying to go on the cheap is to buy up all the seats in a bush taxi, or at least all the seats in one row. It not only avoids having to wait until the taxi driver has filled up every seat, but it's much more comfortable than being crammed in with lots of sweaty people! If you do this, you'll typically need to give the driver some money up front so he can buy petrol along the way.

By car

Hired drivers cost more and is the typical means of transport for foreigners. The price depends on the driver and a a local (Beninois) helping to negotiate is recommended. For example, a three hour car ride from the south central region :::to?::: along the main highway costs about 30 000 - 40 000 FCFA if the car is hired, but a bush taxi would cost about 5000 - 10000 FCFA.

Traffic is chaotic and the rules of the road are rarely enforced. If you are planning on driving yourself in Benin, an International Driver's license is required. Traffic flows on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.

Hiring a local guide is recommended.

Police roadblocks at night occur regularly and traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman) may put the driver in an awkward position explaining and/or bribing the police.

Travelling by car is recommended only between major cities. For example to travel from Cotonou to Porto Novo or Cotonou to Abomey etc. Most of the time you would be required to share the car with many other travellers who are going it the same direction as you. Expect to be cramped and hot as most bush taxis are in hard shape and drivers try to cram as many people as possible into the car to make the trip as financially rewarding as possibly. However if you want to throw the extra money you can hire a car to take you personally where ever you want to go with no stops. The price would depend on the driver and you would definatly need a local (Beninois) to help you to negotiate the price or you will be taken advantage of. For example a 3 hour car ride from the South Central region along the main highway would cost you about 30 000 - 40 000 CFA if only 2 passengers are present, where as if you share the ride and pick people up on the way you would only speand about 5000 - 10000 CFA. This of course all depends on if you have a local present or not. Travelling in such a manner is not recommended without a local present. The danger is minimal but the financial price would be excessive. Also random police roadblocks at night occur regularly as a way of policing the highways and if you were traveling alone with a driver (esspecially if you are a woman) it may put him in an awkward position explaining to the police and it may cost you more money. Traveling by car within the city is not recommended at all due to the fact that it is simply unneccessary and uneconomical. The best way to travel in any city or village is by motorcycle taxi. The are very cheap and the drivers know the city well. You can recognize them by their yellow shirts in most cities. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common. These guys a very reliable if you need to go somewhere and enter a building for example, for a little extra money they will wait outside for as long as you want, just make sure you don't pay them first! For example you can go just about anywhere in Cotonou by zem (zémidjan = moto taxi) for as little as 500-1000 CFA if you get a local to negotiate. It is recommended to travel with a local as much as possible, mainly from a financial aspect. Also driving yourself around in a car is not a good idea. The roads are mostly of hard packed sand, with a few paved main roads in the cities and on the highways between the major cities. Traffic is chaotic, there are no rules of the road. If you are planning on driving in Benin an International Driver's license is required. Traffic drives on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.

By moto

The cheapest way to travel within a city or village is by motorcycle taxi (moto, zemidjan or zem). They are cheap and the drivers usually know the city well. An average ride costs between 100f CFA - 300f CFA, and they are easily recognizable by their matching colored shirts with their ID numbers on them. Prices must be discussed beforehand, and payment is made upon arrival. Remember the driver's ID number as you would a taxi driver's ID in New York City, just in case. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common and moto drivers are someimes involved in crime rings in major cities.

Motos have colors for different cities (for example): Cotonou: yellow Natitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shoulders Kandi: light blue with yellow shoulders Parakou: yellow with green shoulders Kérou: green with yellow shoulders

By boat

There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.

By train

There is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou. While it takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) at 8AM precisely and returns the next day, leaving at 8AM from the Parakou train station.

Talk

The official language is French - the language of the former colonial power. Native African languages such as Fon and Yoruba in the south, Bariba and Dendi in the north, and over 50 other African languages and dialects. English is on the uprise.

Buy

The West African CFA franc has a fixed exchange rate to the euro. Roughly 650 CFA francs is equal to €1, and roughly 500 CFA is equal to 1 US dollar. There are banks in all the major cities, and most of the banks have cash machines. Keep in mind that many businesses and offices, including banks, close for several hours in the middle of the day.

Prices for goods purchased in a store, restaurant, hotel, bus tickets, etc. are non-negociable, but almost everything else is. Depending on the item, it's not uncommon for foreigners to be quoted a price that is double the final purchase price.

One can find any type of African commodity all over Benin.

Eat

In every city/village one will find street vendors selling anything from beans and rice to grilled chicken, goat and/or turkey. Prices are nominal. But one must be careful, always choose a vendor whose food is still hot, and they have taken care to keep the bowls covered with a lid and/or cloth.

Drink

The beer is cheap and good! Local pubs (buvettes) are on every corner in every neighborhood. You can get a bottle of local beer "La Béninoise", Heineken, Guinness, Castel and others depending on the bar. They all cost about 250 CFA for a small bottle or 500 CFA for a large bottle. In the nightclubs beer is excessively expensive, like 30000 CFA a bottle! So stick to the local pubs, or avoid buying beer at the nightclub. Local whiskey (moonshine) is also available, it costs about 2000 CFA for a liter and it is VERY strong stuff. There is also the local vin de palme (palm wine), an alcoholic beverage that is made from from sap of the palm tree.

Sleep

Bénin's sleeping habit is a vast contrast compared to Westerners. While most rise before the crack of dawn, they all work hard straight til Noon:30, when most take a 2-1/2 hour siesta. Then it's back to work for 3 hours.

Depending on how far they've commuted to work, most are back home by 7PM. The next 3 hours are consumed by preparing dinner, t.v., dancing or mingling with friends and neighbors. Then it's time for bed around 10PM, to rest and do it all over again tomorrow.

Work

Be safe to work over there

Stay safe

The best way to stay safe in Benin is to always always always be in the presence of a local person whom you can trust, such as a friend or even a hired tourist guide. They know which areas are safe and which are not, they know the prices of things so you won't get ripped off, they speak the native languages, they know which venues sell good food that is safe for westerners to eat. For women, avoid travelling alone, try to be in the company of other people as much as possible. Do not travel at night alone, attacks along the beaches are frequent, and of course near hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Ignore any person who whistles at you during the night if you are alone. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but that being said muggings and robberies occur everywhere no matter how peaceful the place so be on guard. If you are a victim of a crime, contact the Gendarme (Police) immediately.

Stay healthy

Watch what you eat/drink and where you eat/drink it. If you are going to eat street food, make sure it is served very very hot, since bacteria will not live in hot food. The most common causes of sickness is e.coli bacteria found in undercooked meat. Drinking water is readily available, if you want bottled water there is "Possatome"- a natural spring water bottled in the city with the same name. It is very good and about 500 CFA a bottle. In Cotonou, the tap water is safe to drink but is treated with chlorine which some people may be sensitive to. Malaria is a reality in Benin. Mosquitoes appear from dusk to dawn, standing water is mosquito; available by prescription only. The only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country is against Yellow Fever. The customs agents at the airport generally do not check to see if you have it, but it is strongly advised to get it before entering for your own health. Along with vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Lock Jaw, Rabies and all the other standard childhood vaccines (as per Canadian public school standards). AIDS is an issue in Benin as in all sub-Saharan African countries; use of a condom is highly recommended if entering into a sexual relationship with a Beninese partner. Other risks pertaining to unprotected sex are the same as in any other country whether developed or not: Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc. If traveling to Benin it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you speak to a doctor who specializes in travel. Ask your family doctor or public health nurse for the name of a travel clinic in your area. Go to them about 6 months prior to travel to Benin if possible. This information is designed as a guide and should not be taken as an expert account on how to stay healthy in Benin, only a licensed health professional can provide such information.

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1911 encyclopedia

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

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Wikipedia

Proper noun

Singular
Dahomey

Plural
-

Dahomey

  1. (historical) A former country in Africa, the former name of Benin

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