Benin is a country in Western Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north; its short coastline to the south leads to the Bight of Benin. Its size is just over 110000 km2 with a population of almost 8,500,000. Its capital is the Yoruba founded city of Porto Novo, but the seat of government is the Fon city of Cotonou.
The Dahomey kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers at a young age, and learned about the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the navy. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi or "our mothers" in the Fongbe language, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and 19th century explorers like Sir Richard Burton. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, leading to the area being named "the Slave Coast". Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 20,000 per year at the beginning of the seventeenth century to 12,000 at the beginning of the 1800s. The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and other countries. This decline continued until 1885, when the last Portuguese slave ship departed from the coast of the present-day Benin Republic.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey started to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included land called Dahomey within the French West Africa colony. In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence as of August 1, 1960. A democratic government between 1960 and 1972 were followed by a repressive Marxist-Leninist dictatorship between 1972 and 1991. Multiparty elections have taken place since 1991. The Route d’Esclaves in Ouidah was the last walk on African soil for slaves bound for Brazil and the Caribbean. Museums Ouidah and in Porto Novo analyze the Afro-Brazilian culture. Cotonou is the best of urban Africa, with a lively nightlife and good shopping.
One day, I walked into one of Alidé’s offices in Cotonou to work with the loan officers. Right inside the gate, in the outdoor waiting area, I saw about thirty women seated patiently in perfect rows...
Posted in 2010-01-22 07:11:17