Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Curzon to Danbury >> Dahomey


miles, french, coast, native, line, abomey, west, slave and north

DAHOMEY, da-hoinil or (native name of the people, Dauma or Dahoon1), West Africa, formerly a negro kingdom, now one of the colonies of French West Africa, bounded on the east by the British possessions of Nigeria and Lagos, on the south by the Gulf of Guinea, on the west by Togoland (German), and on the north by the French military possessions; area about 42,000 square miles, having been increased in 1900 by territory in the north, adjacent to the Niger. The coast line is only about 70 miles in length, but opens out northward into a wide hinterland. About midway on the coast lagoon is the port of Whydah, whence a road extends inland to Abomey, a distance of 65 miles. Dense forests and dismal swamps cover nearly two thirds of this distance, but from the Great Swamp of Agrime vast undulating plains rise for many miles in the direction of the Kong Mountains. The Avon and Denham lagoons receive the rivers, which are not very important. The soil is extremely fertile. Among native trees are the baobab and the coconut palm. Groves of oil-palms encircle each town, and palm-oil is made in large quantities. Maize, beans'and peas, as well as cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, limes, oranges, pineapples and other tropical fruits grow in luxuriance; cotton, sugar and spices of all kinds are also grown, and sheep, goats, swine and poultry are raised, though not in large numbers.

In 1911 the imports, which consisted chiefly of liquors, tobacco machinery and cotton goods, were valued at p,904,906; and the exports, which were chiefly maize, copra, kola nuts, rubber, palm-oil and palm kernels, $4,391,660. Some cotton cloth is made in the country, and i weapons and tools are forged from native iron. There are few roads in the country, but in recent years they have been greatly improved. A new metalled road (310 miles in length) for motor traffic runs from Save to the Niger. In 1902 a railway was constructed from the port of Kotonu into the interior to Save (156 miles). The line is intended to run to Chaoru (400 miles). The gauge is a metre. A metre gauge railway has also been constructed from Porto Novo to Pobe (50 miles) along the Lagos frontier. A telegraph line connects that port with Abomey, the Niger and the Senegal. There were 1,389 miles of telegraph and 70 of tele phone line in 1916. The currency consists of cowrie shells and French, English and Amer ican coins. The colony is administered by a lieutenant-governor with an administrative council. The seat of government is Porto Novo, the chief business centre, which has about 30,000 inhabitants. At Kotonu is a wireless telegraph station, and there is regular steamship communication with Europe. Dahomey was an absolute monarchy previous to the French oc cupation. There was a standing army estimated at over 15,000, consisting partly of female warriors or Amazons, who were distinguished by superior physique and high skill in the use of weapons. The natives are full-blooded

Guinea Negroes, or Nigritians of the coast. The Dahosnans are tall, very long-headed, but not so black as the tribes of Senegal. In their own tongue, a dialect of the Ewe language, common in this part of the Slave 'Coast, they are called Fon or Fawin. Their religion is purely fetish, and the sacrifice of human beings, a widespread custom in former times, is still supposed to he practised. In spite of a low standard of morality and warlike attributes and usages, the Dahomans are polite in their intercourse. The activity of missionaries has thus far been attended with little success, ex cept in the case of the dervishes, who are inde fatigable in their efforts to spread the gospel of Islam. The population was estimated in 1911 at 902,000. Whites numbered less than 500. The kingdom of Dahomey arose in the 17th century around the city of Abomey as a nucleus. By successive conquests the kings extended their rule to the highlands of the Mahe on the north and to the Slave Coast on the south. There they came into contact with Europeans and succeeded in obtaining control of a large part of the slave trade, which was then actively carried on by the English, the French and Portuguese. With the cessation of the slave trade the prosperity of the country came to an end. France secured a firm footing on the coast in the second half of the 19th century. Between 1878 and 1885 it obtained possession of Kotonu, Porto Novo and Grand Popo, and after a bloody contest in 1890 forced King Behanzin to acknowledefe itq title to the coast region. War broke out again in 1892 and re sulted in the taking of Abomey, the deposition of Behanzin, since retained a prisoner at Fort de-France, Martinique, and the establishment of a virtual French protectorate. Since then the French have been actively engaged in extending' their authority over the region to the north, so as to bring Dahomey into touch with their pos sessions in the Sudan. In 1897-98 they con cluded treaties with the Germans and the Eng lish and the sphere of influence claimed by each was drt e rni i ti,c1_ Thr question settled, the French government busied itself with Gallicizing the native population. Village, regional and urban schools were established under the new West African educational system in 1902, and in every way the government undertook to win over the natives, Consult Careb, (Les territoires africains et les conven tions anglaises) (Paris 1901) • Francois, (Notre colonie du Dahomey) (ib. 1906) ' • Le Herisse, royatitne du Dahomey) (ib. 1911).