French Colonial Treaties: In Dahomey 03 Oct 1890 between France and Behanzin

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

Below is one of the treaties signed between the French and the King of Dahomey, Béhanzin. This treaty was signed a few months after one of Béhanzin‘s unanswered letters to the French president , and two (2) years prior to King Béhanzin‘s defeat by the French, whose kingdom then came under Protectorate of the French Republic on 3 December 1892. Translated to English by Dr. Y. on http://www.afrolegends.com

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3 October 1890

Agreement between France and the Dahomey

In order to prevent the return of misunderstandings which have brought between France and the Dahomey a state of hostility prejudicial to the two countries’ interests, –

Us, undersigned

Dahomey_Bertrand_de_Montesquiou-Fézensac_(1837-1902)_10
Bertrand de Montesquiou-Fézensac

The king’s messengers

Aladaka

Do-De-Djé

Assisted by:

Cussugan – acting as Yeroghan* 

Zizidoque – cabécère† 

Zououhoucon – cabecere†

Aïnadou – Treasurer of Gore

Designated by his Majesty the King Béhanzin Ahy Djéré

And

Ship Captain de Montesquiou Fezensac [Bertrand de Montesquiou-Fézensac] commanding the cruiser Le Roland – artillery Captain Decoeur, designated by Rear Admiral Cavelier de Cuverville [>Jules de Cuverville] Commander-in-chief of the land and sea forces acting as governor of the gulf of Benin, acting on behalf of the French government.

                Have jointly agreed on the following arrangement which leaves intact all past treaties or conventions agreed upon between France and the Dahomey.

I

The King of Dahomey agrees to respect the French Protectorate of the Kingdom of Porto Novo, and to abstain from all incursions on the territories forming part of that Protectorate.

Dahomey_Jules Marie Armand de Cavelier de Cuverville
Jules de Cuverville

He recognizes the right of France to occupy Kotonou indefinitely.

II

France engages to take such action, on the King of Porto Novo, as to prevent any legitimate cause of complaint being made in future by the King of Dahomey.

By way of compensation for the occupation of Kotonou, France will pay an annual sum, which will in no case exceed 20,000 francs (in gold or silver).

The blockade will be lifted and the present arrangement will take effect from the day of the exchange of signatures. However this arrangement will become final only after it has been submitted for ratification to the French government.

Made in Whydah on the third of October eighteen hundred and ninety.

*someone who governs a city on behalf of the King – a governor

† a sort of nobleman from court

French Colonies in Africa: Dahomey under French Protectorate

Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892
Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892

Below is the notification by Alfred-Amédée Dodds from the French Republic stating that the Kingdom of Dahomey is now under the Protectorate of the French Republic, with the exception of Whydah and certain other territories, which were declared by a French Notification issued on the 3rd December, 1892, to be annexed to France.

The following is a Translation of that Notification :—

(Translation)

le general Alfred-Amedee Dodds
le general Alfred-Amedee Dodds

In the name of the French Republic:

We, Brigadier-General, Commander-in-Chief of the French Settlements of Benin, Knight Commander of the Legion of Honour.

In virtue of the powers conferred upon us,

We declare :

That King Béhanzin Ahy-Djere has been deposed from the throne of Dahomey, and has been banished for ever from this country.

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

That the Kingdom of Dahomey is, and remains, placed under the exclusive Protectorate of France, with the exception of the Territories of WhydahSaviAvlékétéGodomey, and Abomey-Kalavy, which constituted the ancient Kingdoms of Ajuda and Jacquin, which are annexed to the Possessions of the French Republic. The limits of the annexed Territories are: to the west, the River Aheme; to the north and to the east, the River Savi and the north-east frontiers of the Territory of Abomey-Kalavy; to the south, the Atlantic Ocean.”

Done at Porto-Novo, 3rd December, 1892.

Alfred-Amédée DODDS

Why Behanzin should stay in Blida

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

The article below is from 1906 giving reasons why the French government refused to return Béhanzin to his country. The English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com .

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Under this title, La Petite République published an article from which we extract the following conclusions:

What will be the effect of Béhanzin’s return in his country?

The Dahomeans, who in the old days, used to raid their neighbors have been transformed under 10 years, into a population of peaceful docile peasants and easy to be led. No troops are stationed in the ancient kingdom of Behanzin and the administration is working amazingly.

Do not for one instant believe that the negroes have forgotten their old master and here is what M. Francois, ancient chief of cabinet of the governor of Dahomey, says about this in the volume he published three months ago on this colony.

Behanzin_18 Juillet 1906
The original article from La Petite Republique, in French

The people of Dahomey have kept the memory of Kondo (Béhanzin). The name of our courageous adversary still exerts a magical power on his old subjects. The population remains certain of his return. They say, Kondo was defeated by the whites, Kondo is imprisoned on an island by his enemies and this despite the ancient law which guards the Kings of Abomey from seeing the sea, but anyhow, Kondo will transform himself into a small bird and will come back to his capital.

As for the chiefs, here is, from the same author, an anecdote which shows their state of mind:

“The old Alloan who used to command the Dahomean army when Béhanzin was not here, and who today is a worker on the Sudan railroad, was telling one of the engineers, “We know well that we could easily make you disappear, you and the other white people who are in the Dahomey. It would not even be necessary to kill you, it will suffice not to bring you any food for a few days. But what will be the point of this? You will come back, by the thousand, with guns which fire all at once and traverse palm trees. Moreover, if it wasn’t you, it will be the British or the Germans.” And he politely added, “better if it is the French.”

One can see that the loyalty of the chiefs holds onto a fine thread, an occasion, a possibility, to rid their land of the whites.

It is undeniable that the return of Béhanzin will provide this anticipated occasion.

Behanzin’s Letters to the French President

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

Here are letters written by King Behanzin to the French president about his kingdom, his land, and French attacks to force him into war. The originals can be found in French archives, and Benin Archives; the translations from French to English are by Dr. Y., afrolegends.com . Enjoy!

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Our desire is that you have the kindness to send us an officer of your house to deal with litigation issues. As for Cotonou, my father never signed it away, and never will we sign it away. It is impossible for us, because if we do, it will be a great prejudice to us, and thunder will crush anyone who would dare dwell on that territory.”

Behanzin, to the President of the French Republic, 30 April 1890, Archives of the Marines, Paris.

French invasion of the Dahomey along the Oueme River in 1892
French invasion of the Dahomey along the Oueme River in 1892

I have just been informed that the French government has declared war on the Dahomey (…). You could start on all the points you want (…) I, too, will do the same. About what happened at the Ouémé River, you caused it (…). If you had not come to start war against me on the Atchoupa way, I would not have done anything to you first (…). Now, I come to tell you that, if you remain calm, I too will remain calm and we will have peace(…).

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 first time I did not know how to fight a war, now I know. If you start war, I have troops ready. My men are as numerous as works coming out of the earth. I am the king of the Africans and the Europeans have no say in what I do. The villages you are talking about do actually belong to me, they belong to me and wanted to become independent (under your influence), so I gave orders for them to be destroyed (…).

I desire to know how many independent French villages were destroyed by me, King of Dahomey. Remain calm, so your trade in Porto-Novo, this way we will always remain in peace as in the past. If you want war, I am ready. I will not end it even if it lasts a hundred years or kills 20,000 men.”

Behanzin, to Victor Ballot in Porto-Novo, 10 Avril 1892, Archives of the Popular Republic of Benin.

Why the name: Cotonou?

Benin with its map and flag
Benin with its map and flag

When I was little, I always wondered why the name Cotonou was given to a major city in Benin.  I used to think that the name was probably a French transcription of the word ‘coton’ (cotton) for ‘coton – ou’, and that maybe there used to be a lot of cotton there … but nowhere did I find cotton to be the main export or agriculture of Cotonou or Benin.

For starters, Cotonou is the largest city and the economic capital of the Republic of Benin.  Cotonou is known in West Africa for its international market Dantokpa, which is hosted over 20-hectares, and is the largest market in the whole of West Africa, generating over 1 billion CFA-Franc per day.  Cotonou is also well-known for its Zemidjans (or moto-taxis, similar to the Cameroonian bend-skins), and its pollution arising from its use of bad petrol (essence frelatée) also known as kpayo, which is fraudulously imported from neighboring Nigeria.

Cotonou, today.
Cotonou, today.

Located on the coastal strip between Lake Nokoué, and the Atlantic ocean, Cotonou’s name comes from the Fon language and means “mouth of the river of death.”  At the beginning of the 19th century, Kotonou (as it was then spelled) was a small fishing village.  It was originally ruled by the Kingdom of Dahomey until a treaty made with the French by King Ghezo in 1851 allowed the French to establish a trading post at Cotonou.  When Glèlè succeeded to his father Ghezo, the territory of Kotonou was ceded to France by a treaty signed on 19 May 1868.  After Glèlè’s death in 1889, his son Behanzin tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the treaty.  The town Cotonou then developed itself quickly to become today the largest harbor in the region.

As the economic capital of the republic of Benin, Cotonou hosts 2/3 of the industries of the country, and is the seat of the main enterprises and banks of Benin.  It also hosts many of the governmental institutions of the country.  It is now the turntable of commerce in the region, especially because of its close proximity with the Nigerian border (and used to be a place for the conversion of the naira), and is the main port for its neighbor land-locked Niger, which is the world’s first producer of uranium. Enjoy this nice video of Cotonou by benin-passion.com.

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

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”

Béhanzin, King of Dahomey, one of the last African Resistant to French Colonization

Behanzin, king of Dahomey
Behanzin, king of Dahomey

Béhanzin (Gbêhanzin) Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th century.  He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization.  Who was really Béhanzin?

Born in 1844 in Abomey, Béhanzin was the eleventh king of Dahomey from 1889 to 1894.  His name, Kondo, was changed to Béhanzin after he succeeded to his father GlèlèHis personal symbols were the shark, the egg, and two coconut palm trees, while those of his father were the lion and the ritual knife of Gu.  His name actually meant ‘the egg of the world or the son of the shark‘.  His great love for the freedom of his country, culture, and people led him to courageously and fiercely defend the land of his ancestors.  He led the resistance and fight for the Dahomey’s freedom.

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

Dahomey was one of most powerful kingdoms of West Africa, deriving its power from trade and its superior army.  Dahomey’s army was one of the strongest and best-organized armies in West Africa and was comprised of both men and women, including the Amazons, a superior and dreaded fighting force of female warriors.  At the time, Béhanzin masterfully led an army of 15000 men and 5000 amazon women.  One of the Amazon leaders was Seh-Dong Hong-Beh (which means “God speaks true“) who led an army of 6000 amazons against the Egba fortress in Abeokuta in 1851.

In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people, as was (and still is) the practice with Europeans colons.  By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo.  In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Béhanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.

Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892
Combat de Dogba au Dahomey, 19 September 1892

In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou; Béhanzin, now king after Glèlè’s sudden death, prepared for war.  Béhanzin’s army, with rifles supplied by the Germans, were getting too strong for neighboring French colonies.  Béhanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts—militarily at Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo.  The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities.  A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Béhanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou portThe peace lasted for two years.  However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did.  Béhanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.

le general Alfred-Amedee Dodds
General Alfred-Amedee Dodds on the cover of ‘L’Illustration’ 20 May 1893

He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in 1868 null and void, from this war began.  In 1894, Béhanzin was defeated by Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese mulatto, who was sent to fight against him with powerful French armed forces.  Béhanzin, not wanting his people to be massacred, surrendered his person to Dodds, without signing any instrument of national surrender or treaty.  Béhanzin thought that he will get a chance to talk to the French president and find a way or sign a conciliation agreement for his country, unfortunately, the French tricked him and instead of going to France, Behanzin was exiled to Martinique.  With Béhanzin and his immediate family adamantly refusing to sign a treaty making Dahomey a French protectorate, the French installed their choice, Agoli-Agbo, as king; Agoli Agbo, the puppet, did not last more than 6 years (when he asked for more freedom to rule, he was deported to Gabon).  Dahomey was then placed under France’s protection and it eventually became a French colony.  Béhanzin died in 1906 in Algeria.  In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey. Ouanilo’s remains will be restituted to Benin almost 80 years after his death.

King Behanzin in exile in Algeria
King Behanzin in exile in Algeria

Béhanzin once said: «Vous pouvez arracher l’homme de son pays, mais vous ne pouvez arracher son pays du cœur de l’homme, ni arracher un grand homme de l’histoire.» [You can remove a man from his country, but you can never remove his country from a man’s heart, or erase a great man from history].  Béhanzin truly loved his people, and when he saw that his army was being massacred by the French, he cried for his beautiful and strong amazons, and pronounced the most beautiful ode to them [Où sont maintenant les ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère? … Qui chantera leurs splendides sacrifices? Qui dira leur générosité? … comment accepterais-je sans eux une quelconque abdication? Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général? pour la survie de mon peuple, [j’accepte] de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français.

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

Where are now the ardent amazons who were inflamed by a mighty anger? … Who will praise their splendid sacrifices? … Who will tell about their generosity? … How could I accept any sort of abdication without them? How could I dare presenting myself to you, brave warriors, if I signed the general’s paper?… for the survival of my people, [I agree] to meet in his country, according to his promise, the president of the French].  Please watch this great documentary about the life of Béhanzin, the last king of the Dahomey (part 1 – 4), and one of the last resistant to French colonization.  Why was he defeated?  He said himself: «malgré la justesse de notre cause, notre vaillance et notre détermination, ils n’ont pu l’emporter et s’accaparer de la terre de nos aïeux que par la force de leur science» [despite the legitimacy of our cause, our courage, and determination, they could only win and take the land of our forefathers because of the force of their science].  Check out the website djime.com entirely dedicated to Béhanzin and his heritage.  To learn more about Dahomey’s Amazons, check out the Smithsonian blog.  This facebook page provides details about the organization of the amazons in the army.  Don’t forget to offer your support to the Agongointo Musée du passé vivant dedicated to the kingdom of Dahomey.