Benin (IPA: əɪ/b?'n?n/), officially the Republic of Benin, and also known as Benin Republic, is a country in Western Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north; its short coastline to the south leads to the Bight of Benin. Its capital is the Yoruba founded city of Porto Novo, but the seat of government is the Fon city of Cotonou. Benin was known as Dahomey until 1975.
The name Benin has no proper connection to Benin City in modern day Nigeria, which was the capital of the Benin Empire. The name Dahomey was changed in 1975 to the People's Republic of Benin, named after the body of water on which the country lies, the Bight of Benin (which was named after the Empire of Benin). This name was picked for Dahomey due to its neutrality, since the current political boundaries of Benin encompass over fifty distinct linguistic groups and nearly as many individual ethnic groups. The former name, Dahomey, was derived from the name of a former Fon Kingdom within modern-day Benin, and was determined to be an inappropriate name.
Various peoples inhabited the area that would become the Republic of Benin. Of note are the Yoruba whose sub-groups in the Republic of Benin include the Ketu, Icha, Dassa, and Anago, among others. These Yoruba speaking groups were in close contact with other Yoruba towards the east in present-day Nigeria and towards the west in present day Togo. The Yoruba of Oyo, now in present-day Nigeria, had invaded Dahomey several times. In 1728, the Oyo Empire invaded the Kingdom of Dahomey in a major and bitter campaign. The force that invaded Dahomey was largely composed of cavalry. Dahomey, on the other hand had a lack of cavalry but many firearms. These firearms proved effective in scaring the horses of Oyo's cavalry and preventing them from charging. Dahomey's army also built effective fortifications such as trenches, which forced a lot of the Oyo's army to fight as infantry. The battle lasted four days, but the Yoruba were eventually victorious after their reinforcements arrived. Dahomey was forced to pay tribute to Oyo after the latter's hard-fought victory. This would not fully end conflicts, however, and the Yoruba would invade Dahomey several times before the kingdom was fully subjugated in 1748 thus fully incorporating the Dahomey kingdom into the Oyo Empire whose oba (meaning, king or ruler in the Yoruba language) was the Alaafin of Oyo. Under the leadership of King Ghezo, who ascended the Dahomean throne in 1818, Dahomey succeeded in ending its tributary relationship with Oyo. In regions such as present-day Porto Novo, the Fon and Yoruba groups often inter-married.
- Main article: History of Benin
The are a number of Yoruba founded settlements often with a Yoruba oba (meaning ruler or king) in the Republic of Benin, such as at Ketou, Save, Sakete, Idigny, Popo, Ajara, Ahori, Dassa (Idasa) and Icha.
The African kingdom of Dahomey was formed out of a mixture of various local ethnic groups on the Abomey plain. Historians theorized that the insecurity caused by slave trading may have contributed to mass migrations of different groups to modern day Abomey, including a sizeable amount of the Aja, a Gbe people who are believed to have founded the city. Those Aja living in Abomey mingled with the local people, thus creating a new ethnic group known as the Fon, or "Dahomey". Fon or Fongbe is the language of the Fon people, who are also a Gbe people and belongs to the Gbe languages whose five major dialect clusters are: Ewe, Fon, Aja, Gen, and áPhla-Pher. The Gbe peoples are said to be descendents of a number of migrants from Oyo. Gangnihessou, (a member of an Aja dynasty that in the 16th century along with the Aja populace had come from Tado before settling and ruling separately in what is now Abomey, Allada, and Porto Novo), became the first ruler of the Dahomey Kingdom. Dahomey had a strict military culture aimed at securing and eventually expanding the borders of the small kingdom with its capital at modern day Abomey.
The Dahomey kingdom was known for its distinct culture and traditions. Boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers at a young age, and learned about the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the navy. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi or "our mothers" in the Fongbe language, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and 19th century explorers like Sir Richard Burton.
Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, leading to the area being named "the Slave Coast". Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 20,000 per year at the beginning of the seventeenth century to 12,000 at the beginning of the 1800s. The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and other countries. This decline continued until 1885, when the last Portuguese slave ship departed from the coast of present-day Benin Republic bound for Brazil.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey started to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included land called Dahomey within the French West Africa colony.
Departments and communes
- Main articles: Departments of Benin and Communes of Benin
Departments of Benin
Benin is divided into 12 departments (French: départements), and subdivided into 77 communes. In 1999, the previous six departments were each split into two halves, forming the current 12. The new six departments have not been assigned a capital yet.
Map of Benin
Stretched between the Niger River in the northeast and the Bight of Benin in the south, Benin's elevation is about the same for the entire country. Most of the population lives in the southern coastal plains, where Benin's largest cities are also located, including Porto Novo and Cotonou. The north of the country consists mostly of savanna and semi-arid highlands.
- Main article: Geography of Benin
Running southernly, down the middle of the country is the Oueme River.
The climate in Benin is hot and humid with relatively little rain compared to other West African countries, although there are two rainy seasons (April-July and September-November). In the winter the dust winds of the harmattan can make the nights cooler.
The largest city and commercial capital is Cotonou. The name Cotonou is from the Fon phrase ku tɔ? nu 'at the lake of the dead', from the adjacent lagoon. This is a reference to the belief that falling stars represent the souls of those who have just died falling to the underworld. It is said that when Cotonou was founded, the lights of the lacustrine village of éGanvi across the lagoon were reflected in the waters, suggesting fallen stars at the bottom. Ganvié is a fishing village sitting in the water on stilts at the western shore of the lagoon.
The town of Ouidah is the spiritual capital of Vodun, and is known locally as Glexwe. It was a major slaving port under Portuguese occupation. The town of Abomey is the old capital of the Fon kingdom of Dahomey, and the Fon king continues to reside there.
In Atakora province, Betamaribe settlements straddling the Togolese border are called tata somba 'Somba houses'; they are famous for their fortifications, with livestock housed inside and the people sleeping in huts among the granaries on the roofs.
- Main article: Religion in Benin
Celestial Church of Christ baptism in Cotonou. Five percent of Benin's population belongs to the Celestial Church of Christ, an African Initiated Church.
According to the 2002 census, 27.1 percent of the population of Benin is Roman Catholic, 24.4 percent is Muslim, 17.3 percent practices Vodun, 5 percent Celestial Christian, 3.2 percent Methodist, 7.5 percent other Christian denominations, 6 percent other traditional local religious groups, 1.9 percent other religious groups, and 6.5 percent claim no religious affiliation.
Indigenous religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces) and Vodun and Orisha or Orisa veneration among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south of the country. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual center of Beninese Vodun.
The Tado and the Yoruba Orisha pantheons correspond closely:
The major introduced religions are Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou, and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity), and Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora. Many, however, continue to hold Vodun and Orisha beliefs and have incorporated into Christianity the pantheon of Vodun and Orisha.
- · The supreme deity Mawu (in the Fon language) or Olodumare (also known as Olorun, Eledumare, Olofin-Orun and Eledaa among other names)(in Yoruba)
- · The deity of the earth and smallpox, known as Sakpana (or Sopono, Sakpata), can also be spelt as 'Shakpata, Shopono, Shakpana, and also known as Babalu Aye or Obalu Aye.
- · The deity of thunder and lightning, known as Shango; can also be spelt as Sango, also known as Jakuta, Chango, Xevioso and Hevioso.
- · The deity of war and iron, known as Ogun, also known as Ogoun or Gu.