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Dahomey

Dahomey, a negro kingdom on the N. coast of the Gulf of Guinea, whose limits are undefined. It has a seaboard of 35 miles, and the coast region has many swamps and lagoons, of which the principal are named Avon and Dereham respectively. Inland it stretches 65 miles to the Kong mountains. Whydah is the chief port, and the capital is Abomey. The land is fertile, and produces plentifully palm oil, maize, beans, peas, tropical fruits, cotton, sugar, and spice. Sheep, goats, and poultry are sparingly bred, and there is some manufacture of cotton cloths, and of weapons and tools of native iron. The climate is fairly good, and the strong winds which often prevail keep the air purified. The greatest drawback to life in Dahomey is the prevalence of the "Guinea worm." During a great part of the year the coast is almost unapproachable owing to the breakers and surf which are known as the "Guinea Coast Bar." There is a little iron and copper in the country, but gold and silver are plentiful, and the natives display great taste in working them. Dahomey was once a great centre of the slave trade, but this profitable industry has almost ceased. There is no real standing army except the famous Amazons, who probably do not number more than 2,000. The French hunter, Jules Gerard, was deceived on this point by their being marched over and over again in front of him after the fashion of a stage army. It was not till the 18th century that Dahomey came much into notice, and the first king of note was Ghezo, who in 1852 made a treaty with England for the abolition of the slave trade. He died in 1858. Gelele, a later king, received an English mission in the person of Captain (afterwards Sir Richard) Burton. In 1870 the ports were blockaded by England. In 1890 France obtained a protectorate by a treaty with the king, Behanzin, which he afterwards repudiated.

The Inhabitants. The Foys (Ffon, Effon), as they were formerly called, appear to have originally migrated from the Upper Niger Basin to their present homes, where Taku-donu, founder of the royal dynasty, established himself at Ardra (Allada), and about 1625 built the palace of Dahomi (Dahwomi), from which his subjects gradually adopted the name of Dahomans, though their language is still called Ffon or Effon. This language, which is allied to the Ga and Tchi of the Gold Coast, is a chief member of the Ewe (Ehwe) group, of which the other branches are the Mahi (Makki) of the hill country in the interior; Anfuch, current in the districts of Anfuch, Trepe, Ehwe-anio, Agotine, and others along the left bank of the Volta; Awuna (Aulo) on the south-west coast; Whydea (Hweta) and Ehwemi on the south and south-east coasts towards Yorubuland, with total range of 150 miles along the seaboard, and perhaps 200 miles inland. The Dahomans are typical negroes, somewhat more advanced in the social scale than their western neighbours, the Ashantis of the Gold Coast, but greatly inferior to the Yorubas on their eastern frontier. Amongst them the early closing of the cranial sutures is very marked, so that skulls of adults are often found without any visible transverse or longitudinal sutures. Hence, although quick and intelligent in their youth, they make little further advance after the age of puberty, when the mind is arrested while the physical nature acquires its full development, mastering and even deadening the mental qualities. They are impulsive without application, imitative without invention, indolent and energetic, though, like children, subject to sudden outbursts of passion, cruel and strangely insensible to physical suffering, as shown by the sanguinary rites and atrocities associated with the periodical "customs." These customs are said to have been instituted by Taku-donu's successor, Adahunzu (Adanzu), second king of Dahomey, who died about 1650. But the prevalence of similar practices amongst the Ashanti and other kindred peoples is sufficient proof that such horrors have formed part of the social and religious life of the Upper Guinea populations from the remotest times. (See Dalzel's History of Dahomey, 1793, and Major A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast, 1890).)

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