Article

Benin (Dahomey)

Mathurin C. Houngnikpo

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online May 2015 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0173
Benin (Dahomey)

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Benin is the site of the former West African kingdom of Dahomey that gained prominence around 1600. The kingdom became a regional power for the following two-and-a-half centuries, thanks to its central role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Having conquered Allada in 1724, and the port city of Whydah (Ouidah) in 1727, the kingdom of Dahomey gained direct access to the European market. To maintain its status as a major power to reckon with in the region, Dahomey engaged in slave trade to get more guns. Very soon, growing military power and the refusal to curtail the slave trade would put Dahomey and European powers at loggerheads. Both the British, from their protectorate in Lagos (Nigeria), and the French vowed to defeat Dahomey, and the repudiation of the treaty ceding Cotonou to the French became the bone of contention that flared up a serious conflict between France and Dahomey. From the early days of the kingdom of Dahomey (1600–1894) to a Colony of France (1894–1960) to the Republic of Dahomey (1960–1975) to contemporary Benin, the country went through various fortunes and misfortunes. After several years of wars and confrontation with French colonialism, Dahomey gained its independence in 1960, only to plunge into a period of instability and military coups. Faced with dire economic, political, and social conditions, Benin had to convene in 1990 a national conference tasked with drafting a new chapter in Benin’s history. Ever since, the country has been on a democratic path struggling with problems inherent in a nascent democracy. After an early dearth of scholarly work in the English language mainly because of the country’s “Francophoness,” the quantity and quality of the literature on Dahomey/Benin has greatly increased in recent decades, not only in English but also in other languages. There are nowadays several materials in different languages authored by scholars who chronicle daily life and depict political, economic, and social situations of the small country in West Africa. Because of its active role in the world economy throughout the era of mercantile and industrial capitalism, beginning as an exporter of slaves and becoming an exporter of plain oil and palm kernels, Dahomey became the rallying point of many explorers and missionaries, either in search of fame, glory, and God or out of sheer curiosity. The bulk of research and books on Dahomey/Benin emerged first out of such foreign visitors’ journals and memories. For the academic community, Benin has a great deal to offer. Researchers can access several books and volumes that have elucidated topics and areas previously unexplored. There are probably more works on Benin in French, but there are a variety of works in English as well.

Article.  16141 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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