Description of King Behanzin’s Army on 13 March 1890

Behanzin, king of Dahomey
Behanzin, king of Dahomey

Below is a description of the army of King Béhanzin by a French prisoner made on 13 March 1890. This Frenchman is stunned by the number of warriors in Behanzin’s army, by their discipline, strength and muscular stature. More importantly, he also describes the Dahomey Amazons (locally known as Mino), the Fon all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Republic of Benin) who formed the king’s special bodyguard unit, and his secret weapon! Remember that in Behanzin’s Farewell Speech in Dahomey, the king had sung praises of his beloved Mino. Here the narriator is amazed by their sight and confirms, “Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, …”  Translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com.

====

Dahomey_Amazones a 1890
Dahomey Amazons ca 1890

We are right in the Dahomean camp!

At least 15000 men are in front of us, arranged in order of battle in front of their tents made up of palm leaves, immobile, in such a deep silence that at 100 meters from our prison, in the same courtyard, separated by a simple wall, we could not have imagined their existence.

It is really a painting of a sublime horror and which painfully squeezes our heart. Fifteen thousand men, armed with guns and machetes! There is nothing to say, they are beautiful robust and muscular warriors under their white loincloths, which brings out the ebony of their stature even more. Not a cry, not a single movement, not a noise.

Quiet ourselves and deeply moved, we cross the hay that they form, lined up like the long rows of ears on a wheat field. Black and human harvest of which the one who is there can freely pick or mow heads.

Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)
Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)

The main officers of the army came to surround us. Our group starts to walk, it takes us more than a quarter of an hour to cross the first rows, given that their battle ranks are so deep. Then we cross an empty space, on the other side of which the Black army continues. Here it is no longer just warriors. The second line, in fact, consists of amazons in three tight ranks, surrounding in a huge circle the very throne of the king whom we cannot yet see.

They are there the four thousand female warriors, the four thousand Black virgins of Dahomey, bodyguards of the monarch, immobile under their war shirts, gun and knife in the fist, ready to pounce on a signal from the master.

Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, lined up like them in ranks.

An Amazon warrior ca 1890
An Amazon warrior ca 1890

The chiefs are in rows, at the head of the columns, recognizable by the richness of their shirts, by their proud and resolute air. Such are the amazons at rest with their arms. There is a long way from this discipline, this order, to the savage and barbaric hordes that we imagine. His Majesty Behanzin can be calm, these viragos will not let him be taken away easily. The triple circle that they form is immense, without a void, gap, or hole.

E. Chaudoin, extract from the Illustration of 26 July 1890, Les Africains Tome X, Editions J.A., 1978, P. 250

 

 

 

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.

=============

« 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

Behanzin’s Farewell Speech in Dahomey

Behanzin, king of Dahomey
Behanzin, king of Dahomey

This famous speech of King Béhanzin is the last strong message he gave on January 20, 1894, in homage to his army which he always praised the courage, and bravery of the soldiers and amazons. For the original, click here. Since this is such an important piece of African history, I decided to translate his farewell speech into english. Enjoy!

“Fellow sufferers, last faithful friends, you know the circumstances under which, when the French wanted to grab the land of our ancestors, we decided to fight.

We had the certitude to lead our army to victory.  When my warriors rose by the thousand to defend the Danhomè and his king, I recognized with pride the same bravery manifested by those of Agadja, of Tégbessou, of Ghézo, and of Glèlè. I was by their sides in all the battles.

Despite the legitimacy of our cause, and our courage, our compact troops were decimated in an instant. They could not defeat the white enemies whom I also praise the courage and discipline. And already my weeping voice arouses no more echo.

An Amazon warrior ca 1890
An Amazon warrior, ca 1890

Where are now my ardent amazons who were inflamed by a mighty anger?

Where are their indomitable chiefs: Goudémè, Yéwê, Kétungan?

Where are their robust captains: Godogbé, Chachabloukou, Godjila?

Who will praise their splendid sacrifices? Who will tell about their generosity?

Since they sealed the pact of supreme loyalty with their blood, how could I accept any sort of abdication without them?

How could I dare presenting myself in front of you, brave warriors, if I signed the general’s paper?

Continue reading “Behanzin’s Farewell Speech in Dahomey”