The King of Dahomey and the Amazons

In the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, it is the King of Dahomey who essentially represents the government; but he was helped by a few dignitaries: the mingan, sort of prime minister; of them meo, secondary ministers, and many cabéceres which have one, two, three or four ponytails according to their importance. The king is represented in Ouidah by the yevoghan and by theagor. Moreover, these different characters do not have their own authority: they are real slaves of the king. 

King of Dahomey and Amazons

One of the main characteristics of the Dahomey regime is its reigning despotism, comparable to that of the Ashanti; the king and the nobles carefully based their power on religious ceremonies. The king "lion of Abomey", "cousin of the Leopard" is considered a god; his power is unlimited, he disposes of the life and property of his subjects; he inherits from the dead.

The custom had disappeared in XIXe century, but before that he took his meals in secret, being supposed not to eat or drink like ordinary mortals; in the same way he listened to the pleas behind a curtain which hid him from the sight of his subjects. Let us add that, according to tradition, there reigned in the undergrowth a phantom king in whose name the levying of taxes and annoyances of all kinds took place: everything that could be complained of was attributed to this fictitious king of Dahomey, and all that it was necessary to rejoice the largesse and the blessings was attributed to the real king.

Amazon of Dahomey King of Dahomey
An Amazon dahomean, from a photograph.
(source: E. Reclus, Man and Earth, I).
In Dahomey, women were free to practice trades
men, they took part in the government and were 
associated with the army. However, once they are married
became the property of the husband who bought them. 

The King of Dahomey has an army of women as the Queen (hobbyist) command with the right of life and death; the sons of the queen are the only royal princes, the sons of other women are pages and one chooses from their number the cabécères to whom it is forbidden to reveal their origin. In the harem the keeper of the brazier where the king lights his pipe, and the favorite who holds the spittoon are dignitaries of the kingdom. The other wives are slaves who take care of the housework and the kitchen. In addition, a few hundred women installed in the palace make up the royal guard: they are virgin Amazons guarded by eunuchs.

They declare that they devote themselves to the profession of man and soldier. Their costume is quite elegant: it is a tunic of several colors, on which fabulous animals are played, in embroidery, and rather short green or red pants. Their almost masculine forms, their courage, their cruelty make them excellent soldiers. They perform war dances with indefatigable precision. The king's guard is also made up of 2,000 warriors armed with stone guns; in the event of war, it can raise a maximum of 12 to 13,000 men. 

The government is only concerned with maintaining the court and waging war; but these expenses greatly exceed the income regularly collected by taxation. So we get our resources as best we can, by stripping from time to time the rich houses, by stopping the goods in the streets; in Ouidah, the inhabitants who bought cloth in the factories apostle people of confidence to know if the king's people are not watching them and will not strip them on the way back home: any attempt at resistance is a crime.

The result of the vexations exercised against the rich is a deep misery from which no one seeks to escape. In the spring, the king takes the able-bodied population who could harvest palm oil to war. We voluntarily leave the country without roads or canals to close it to Europeans.