Le Discours d’Adieu du Roi Behanzin

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

Je viens de me rendre compte que le site djime.com qui était entièrement dedié au roi Béhanzin, n’est plus actif. J’ai donc decidé de poster ici, la version francaise, l’originale du discours d’adieu du roi Behanzin. J’avais deja traduit dans son intégralité ce discours du roi Behanzin en anglais. The English version here.

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« Compagnons d’infortune, derniers amis fidèles, vous savez dans quelles circonstances, lorsque les Français voulurent accaparer la terre de nos aïeux, nous avons décidé de lutter.

Nous avions alors la certitude de conduire notre armée à la victoire. Quand mes guerriers se levèrent par millier pour défendre le Danhomè et son roi, j’ai reconnu avec fierté la même bravoure que manifestaient ceux d’Agadja, de Tegbessou, de Ghézo et de Glélé. Dans toutes les batailles j’étais à leurs côtés.

Malgré la justesse de notre cause, et notre vaillance, nos troupes compactes furent décimées en un instant. Elles n’ont pu défaire les ennemis blancs dont nous louons aussi le courage et la discipline. Et déjà ma voix éplorée n’éveille plus d’écho.

An Amazon warrior ca 1890
An Amazon warrior ca 1890

Où sont maintenant les ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère ? Où, leurs chefs indomptables : Goudémè, Yéwê, Kétungan ? Où, leurs robustes capitaines : Godogbé, Chachabloukou, Godjila ? Qui chantera leurs splendides sacrifices ? Qui dira leur générosité ?

Puisqu’ils ont scellé de leur sang le pacte de la suprême fidélité, comment accepterais-je sans eux une quelconque abdication ? Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général ?

Non ! A mon destin je ne tournerai plus le dos. Je ferai face et je marcherai. Car la plus belle victoire ne se remporte pas sur une armée ennemie ou des adversaires condamnés au silence du cachot. Est vraiment victorieux, l’homme resté seul et qui continue de lutter dans son cœur. Je ne veux pas qu’aux portes du pays des morts le douanier trouve des souillures à mes pieds. Quand je vous reverrai, je veux que mon ventre s’ouvre à la joie. Maintenant advienne de moi ce qui plaira à Dieu ! Qui suis-je pour que ma disparition soit une lacune sur la terre ?

Partez vous aussi, derniers compagnons vivants. Rejoignez Abomey où les nouveaux maîtres promettent une douce alliance, la vie sauve et, paraît-il, la liberté. Là-bas, on dit que déjà renaît la joie. Là-bas, il paraît que les Blancs vous seront aussi favorables que la pluie qui drape les flamboyants de velours rouge ou le soleil qui dore la barbe soyeuse des épis.
Compagnons disparus, héros inconnus d’une tragique épopée, voici l’offrande du souvenir : un peu d’huile, un peu de farine et du sang de taureau. Voici le pacte renouvelé avant le grand départ.
Adieu, soldats, adieu !…

Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey
Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey

Guédébé… reste debout, comme moi, comme un homme libre. Puisque le sang des soldats tués garantit la résurrection du Danhomè, il ne faut plus que coule le sang. Les ancêtres n’ont plus que faire de nos sacrifices. Ils goûteront mieux le pur hommage de ces cœurs fidèles unis pour la grandeur de la patrie. C’est pour quoi j’accepte de m’engager dans la longue nuit de la patience où germent des clartés d’aurore. Guédébé, comme le messager de la paix, va à Ghoho où campe le général Dodds. Va dire au conquérant qu’il n’a pas harponner le requin. Va lui dire que demain, dès la venue du jour, de mon plein gré, je me rends au village de Yégo. Va lui dire que j’accepte, pour la survie de mon peuple, de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français. »

extrait de – Kondo le requin – Jean PLYA – Ed. CLE

The Kanem-Bornu Empire: linking ancient Chad, Libya, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria

Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s
Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s

When the Zaghawa (people of Kanem) arrived in the area around Lake Chad, they found independent walled-cities states from the Sao civilization, a civilization which had flourished around the 6th century, with its center around the Chari river, south of Lake Chad.  The Zaghawa adopted some of the Sao customs, but fight among the two lasted from the 7th century until the 16th.  The conquest of Kanem by the Zaghawa was done under the Duguwa dynasty which was started by King Sef (also known as Saif… some people eager to change African history state that the Zaghawa were from Yemen… but we all know that they were local people) about 700 CE. The dynasty, Sayfawa or Sefuwa, is named for King Dugu, one of Sef’s sons, who was ruling about 785 CE.  Abandoning their nomadic lifestyle, the Zaghawa established a capital at N’Jimi (meaning “south” — the location of this town is still unknown, but it is believed to be around Lake Fitri).  Under the rule of Dugu, Kanem expanded to become an empire.  The Zaghawa kings, called maï, were regarded as divine and belonged to a ruling establishment known as the Magumi. They were recognized for a great amount of horses.  Kanem’s expansion peaked during the reign of Maï Dunama Dabbalemi (ca. 1221-59) and extended northward into the Fezzan region (Libya), westward into Kano (Nigeria), eastward to Ouaddaï (or Wadai), and southward into the Adamawa grasslands (Cameroon). They converted to islam around the 11th century CE.

Group of Kanem-Bu warriors in the 1800s
Group of Kanem-Bu warriors in the 1800s

By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Between 1376 and 1400, six Maïs reigned, but were killed by foreign invaders.  Finally, around 1396 the Bulala invaders forced the once strong Sayfawa dynasty to abandon Njimi and move to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad.  Around 1472, Maï Ali Dunamami fortified the Bornu state, and established the capital at Ngazargamu, which had more fertile lands. Over time the inter-marriage between the Kanembu and the Borno people created a new people, the Kanembu, and a language called Kanuri.

The Kanem-Bornu empire peaked during the reign of Maï Idris Alooma (ca. 15711603) who is remembered for his great military and diplomatic skills.  His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Toubou to the north, and the Bulala to the east. One epic poem tells of his victories in 330 wars, and over 1,000 battles.  He was a true military genius, and some of his innovations included the use of fixed military camps (with walls), permanent sieges, and “scorched earth” tactics, armored horses and riders, the use of Berber camels, of skilled Kotoko boatmen, and of iron-helmeted musketeers trained by Turkish military advisers. He had very strong diplomatic ties with Tripoli, Egypt, and the Ottoman empire, which at some point sent a 200-member ambassadorial party across the desert to Alooma’s court in Ngazargamu.  The state revenues came from tribute from vassal states, trans-saharan trade route, and slave trade. Many products such as cotton, natron (sodium carbonate), kola nuts, ivory, ostrich feathers, perfume, was, and hides were exported north via the Sahara desert.

Map of the Kanem and Kanem-Bornu empires
Map of the Kanem and Kanem-Bornu empires

By the end of the 17th century, the empire started declining, and by the 18th century, it only extended westward into the land of the Hausa. By the early 19th century, the declining empire could not sustain the advance from the fulani warriors of Usman Dan Fodio who proclaimed the jihad war against the non-muslims.

To learn more about the Kanem-Bornu empire, check out: Jamtan.com, Daily Kos- Ancient Africa, BlackPast.org, The empire by the lake. Don’t forget to check out the book “Kanem-Borno: One Thousand Years of Splendor (Kingdoms of Africa)”  by Philip Koslow.  Back in those days, Lake Chad covered an area of about 10,000 m2… today it has sadly shrunk down to 1,300 m2, and is still shrinking! I could not find a really good map of the Kanem or Kanem-Bornu empire, so I used Google maps  and known maps from history books to make my own with some of the boundaries cited earlier. I have overlaid the Kanem and the Kanem-Bornu empires on the same map to give a better idea. Enjoy!

The forgotten kingdom of Nubia

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia

The general public is familiar with Egypt and the pharaohs, but is not so aware that there was a highly important, sophisticated, and independent ancient civilization in Nubia, which is south of Egypt in present-day Sudan.  For over a century, Nubian pharaohs dominated Egypt, and their kingdom extended from Lake Chad and well into the middle east.  The conquest of Egypt started with Pharaoh Piye of Nubia, and continued with Taharqa who launched the most audacious building campaign of any pharaoh since the New Kingdom (around 1500 B.C.).  Under Taharqa, the capitals were Napata and Thebes, and Jebel Barkal the holy mountain.

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

Nubia is a kingdom with 3 times as many pyramids as Egypt.  Their language still needs to be decoded, and archaeologists are searching for a Rosetta stone similar to that discovered by Champollion which allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  The Nubians were well known for their military genius, and Egyptian pharaohs will sometime hire Nubian mercenaries to fight their battles.  Theirs was a civilization of strong queens such as Amanishaket, and Amanitore.  One of these queens Candace Amanirenas defeated the roman army of Augustus Caesar.

Pyramids of Meroe
Pyramids of Meroe

To learn more, check out some of these great websites: http://www.thenubian.net/index.php, http://www.ancientsudan.org/index.html. National Geographic also had a series of articles on Nubia: Black Pharaohs, Rare Nubian King statues uncovered in Sudan. The site of Gebel Barkal was added to the UNESCO list of world treasures in 2003… check it out on the UNESCO World heritage website, and the Society of Nubian Cultures.

Please discover Nubia, and revel in African genius!

Don’t forget to watch Part 2-5 .

Great Zimbabwe, a civilization of stone

A Conical tower
A Conical tower

Have you ever felt tired of people telling you that there was no great Black civilization? that there was nothing in “sub-saharan” Africa? Well,… I have heard of a great African kingdom in the southernmost part of Africa: Great Zimbabwe which stands for “great house of stone” in the Shona language! Houses upon houses made of stone, and today some of them still stand tall in Zimbabwe. When a German geologist ‘stumbled’ (you know what I mean… like christopher Columbus discovered America at a time when it was already full of people) upon it, he was convinced that it could not be the work of Africans! Well, then… let me present to you Great Zimbabwe, a kingdom located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers! It is a civilization which flourished from the 11-15th centuries. Just like the Maya, Aztec, incas, we also have our own!

UNESCO made it a world site heritage in 1986. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364/)

Check out http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/zimb/hd_zimb.htm

Great Zimbabwe ruins
Great Zimbabwe ruins

There are great documentaries about Great Zimbabwe, but I decided to choose a short doc made by school children (please don’t be distracted by the masks shown in these video which are not from southern Africa but from West and Central Africa), since all the others mostly focused on the European researchers rather than Great Zimbabwe itself. If you are curious, feel free to go check all the other documentaries on youtube or dailymotion (such as Zimbabwe’s Ancient Ruins Part 1-3, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kdhyj2kc6c).