Dahomey history dates back to the seventeenth century. In the current areas of Accra and Lagos there was a rain-free zone known as the Great Light. It is not a natural feature but was rather a result of the clearance of scrub forest. There and around this area lived and still live today the Yoruba, Edo, Ibo, Akan and Ewe peoples. However, as students of African magick, we are most interested in the Fon. They lived right in the middle of the Great Light. It was the Fon whose legendary histories, cities and military tradition date back to three brothers. One took the city of Allada in the center of the Great Light, another the city of Ayache, later the Portuguese Poto-Novo, and the third Abomey.
Europeans initially had no interest in the Fon area of the Great Light. They could explore and exploit the nearby Gold Cost, south of the Ashanti nation. However, Europeans soon realized that gold was hard to come by and people easy. Capture and the slave trade was more profitable than business and mining. And the best area for trading slaves was the Gold Cost, later dubbed the Slave Coast. At the heart of the Slave Cost was the village of Widah. It was controlled by the Europeans, but soon began to negotiate with the Fon of Allada.
News, as you know, flies. Especially if it is powered by money and profits. The Fon of the north, living in Abomey, had founded a small Spartan-like military state. They called this Danhome, soon becoming known to the European colonists as Dahomey. They became a major provider of slaves, selling men captured in battle. Westerners soon created myths around their bestial practices, ritual sacrifices, cannibalism, and torture. Also their spiritualism and occult practices. There was a certain fear of the wildness of the Dahomey, not only their temporal, but also spiritual power.
One of the most incredible features of the Dahomey was their use of fierce female soldiers – later dubbed Amazons – in battles. This was an elite regiment of female troops handpicked by the King for their ferociousness. They were also technically the King's wives – forbidden to marry or lay with another man on the punishment of death. Battle and war was all that they knew and they were very adept at this.
Like all elite corps, the Dahomey female regiments were very well taken care of. When they were not defeating their enemies they were living in the best housing that money could buy in Abomey.
The Dahomey were not a people who were going to sit back and allow Europeans, as well as Southern African neighbors, control the slave trade. The Fon eventually conquored the entire country, including the European territories and major slave shipping point of Widah. The military prowess of the Dahomey was what contributed to their downfall. By taking Widah, the heart of European slave trading in the area, they also severely hindered their own economic growth. As a result, they hindered their military growth. They would be unable to buy new firearms from the Europeans and they would be unable to purchase alcohol to keep troops content. A new Golden Age for Dahomey would only resurface in the middle of the nineteenth century with the advent of the Brazilian slave trade. This would be marked by the rule of Dahomey's two longest-serving Kings, King Guez and King Glele.
It was the European race for central Africa, combined with Dahomey's earlier economic isolation, that ultimately ended the Glele Kingdom and marked the downfall of Dahomey. The German presence in Tongo created conflict with Dahomey after the death of King Glele. A new king, given the name “Shark Jaws,” would be crowned as Behinzin Kongo. For his inauguration he sacrificed forty-one male and forty-one female children. The proximity with Togo soon spread this information to the puritanical Europe. And when Dahomey King Behinzin Kongo demanded land from the French Parliament it was the final straw. The war – lasting two years – would cost the French greatly. But it would cost Behinzin Kongo more; the last King of Dahomey, forced to retire in French Martinique with only five of his twelve wives.