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HISTORY & CULTURE

THE WAR THAT WAS LOST BECAUSE OF TREES

26 May 2021

Centuries ago, stories of wars and kings protecting their kingdom were not uncommon. Born in 1845, king Benhanzin known as The Shark King was the ruler of The Dahomey Kingdom. Kingship was strongly intertwined with religious significance. The Dahomeans had strong beliefs in their sacred trees which they believed protected them from attacks. When the king rejected a European convoy on religious grounds it worsened existing conflicts between both parties culminating in the battle of the Queme valley in 1884. The French Europeans deployed cutting down the sacred trees as a form of psychological warfare. This weakened the morale of the Dahomean army and the king surrendered himself with his head held up high in Jan 1984.
Centuries ago, stories of wars and kings protecting their kingdom and people were not uncommon. Africa too had more than enough of its fair share of royalty and wars. Africa does nothing on a small scale, even kingship in the continent was a spectacular affair. African culture is deeply rooted in intense awe and reverence for kings. Kingship or rulership in turn was strongly intertwined with religious significance as kings usually attain a demi-god status. Thus, before wars were started and even during battles the king and the people relied strongly on the protection of their gods. One such decisive battle was the battle of the Queme Valley in 1894, between the African Dahomey kingdom and the French. Dahomey is in the present-day Benin Republic.  Born in 1845, king Benhanzin also known as The Shark King was the ruler of the military and trade Power House kingdom. Upon ascending the throne after his father’s death in 1889, the 45-year-old Benhanzine came face to face with the growing European invasion and colonization of Africa. The Berlin conference of 1884 had already established a partitioning pattern that allocated ‘’Behanzine’s territory’’ to the French. Though he was no fan of this invasion he had to manage the situation as a king. He tried to implement the Ouida Agreement of October 1890, which recognized France as the protectorate over Porto- Novo in exchange for an annual rent of 20,000 Francs. Several conflicts ensued between the Indomitable Dahomean king and the French.  Benhanzin renounced treaties made by his father and refused an audience with the French envoy in charge of the region, Jean Bayol on religious grounds; rituals, and ceremonial functions he had to attend to. He was known for not taking lightly the religious culture of his kingdom as he had a reputation that assigned him command of supernatural forces. He subsequently attacked the French in 1890 outside Cotonou which resulted in many casualties on both sides. Benhanzin had in his militia German affiliations, an army of 15,000 men and 5,000 dreaded Amazon women. In 1892 Jean Bayol, now Colonial Governor sent French troops led by Colonel Doods to invade Dahomey. Amidst the several war tactics used in the conquest of the Dahomean kingdom was the use of psychological warfare. These are war strategies aimed at demoralizing the opponent’s army and have been in use for decades. It’s no secret that Royalty in Africa is usually tied with the priestly office, annual customs, ancestral worship, sacred places, things, and beliefs.  One of such was the sacred trees in the Oueme and Zou, revered and believed to be the homes of the spirit of the ancestors that protected them. It was an abomination to cut down such trees. Folk traditions carry tales of great misfortunes befalling anyone that dared to cut these trees. The French shared no such beliefs and exploited it as a means of psychological warfare by cutting down most of the sacred trees in the Oueme and Zou. They advanced from the Oueme valley up towards striking distances of Abomey. The move was unexpected as the Dahomeans were not expecting an attack from behind, having strong beliefs in the power of the Sacred Trees. With the trees gone, the fighting morale of the soldiers and even of the ''Shark King'’ diminished greatly especially when he saw his people falling in mass to the superior weaponry of the French. In Jan, 15th 1984,  with their Spirits diminished but not entirely broken, a defiant King Benhanzin voluntarily surrendered himself to the French army. He reiterated his heartbreak over the loss of lives of his people and his resolute decision to speak with the French king on behalf of his homeland. An illusion the French were not even willing to consider. No treaties or national surrender agreements were signed. He was so feared and was exiled to Martinique and Algeria till his death in 1906. Agile-Agbo, a distant relative of Benhanzin was appointed to succeed him by the French, but it was clear that the reign of the kings of Dahomey was over. Agoli fell out with the French was exiled in Feb 1990 but allowed under restrictions to return in 1910 to perform ancestral obligations. After 60 years of colonization, the country re-gained its independence in 1960  King Behanzine may have been defeated in battle but even in the face of defeat, he held his head up resilient to the end.

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Haunted Places in South Africa

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28 Apr 2021

Rwanda, so Interesting

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28 Apr 2021

African Dance STyles

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02 May 2021

Africa Mathematical Games

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02 May 2021