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Dahomey and the Royal Palaces of Abomey

2015-07-22 | 🔗

The Royal Palaces of Abomey are a series of earthen palaces in what is now Benin. The complex is culturally and historically important to West Africa, but the source of much of the wealth that built those palaces was the Atlantic slave trade. Read the show notes here.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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about a lot of different UNESCO World heritage? Past representatives, I guess they come up alive, though, for the most part these sites been remarkable, unimportant in ways that I'm off is generally positive, or at least neutral. So, for example, there is poverty point which was the largest pre colombian city North of Mexico. We had a whole upset that there are parks and civic building trips and other structures that were part of the work of Antonia Gouty, which he his work, there are seven different UNESCO Heritage sites in the places that he worked on.
We also talked about Palmyra and our episode on xenophobia and the Romans, and that was a tremendously important site in ancient Syria, in its rate recently even threatened and in some cases damaged by the islamic state, so motion these UNESCO sites that we fact about dont have like this remember baggage associated with them, which is not the case today. Today's subject is also a UNESCO World heritage site, but its place in world history and cultural heritage has very different connotations, think any other site on that list that we have talked about before the Royal Palace of Abode may are a series of earth and palaces, and what now name in West Africa and there located in what was the capital of the kingdom of the whole May, which kingdom that people may not have heard of before
many of these earthen buildings are covered in bar relief sculptures if you're not familiar with that term, that is like start with a flat surface, slightly raised out from that surfaces, how it sculpted- and these sculptures doctor history of the fond people who did not have any written language at the time. So this complex is called. Really really important to the history of the fond people very historically important to West Africa. By this, A lot of the kingdom of the homes wealth is that these policies are being built. The Atlantic. Slave trade was really thriving and out of their money and power that bit went along with these structures came from the slave trade, so that means that is also part of the cultural history of the whole world, basically not just West Africa, in a way that I think a lot of people often talk about
for those who are going to talk about the day. We're gonna talk about the kingdom of the whole me in these palaces of the place that these structures have come to represent and basically, that cultural history of the world. The way of Africa. That is now. The republic of Benzene is home to more than forty different ethnic groups. The largest of these is the phone people the phone or traditionally and agricultural society growing crops like cotton, yams and millet and after it was introduced by Europeans also tobacco and most of Africa, The phone people recorded their history using oral or visual methods, but not writing. So history was passed from generation to generation through dance and visual arts and songs stories, most of the very official retailing which were the ones that were repeated over and over and over and then changed very little from one story: teller to another, were commissioned by the monarchy in the king
of the whole me, a Royal harold or storyteller was entrusted with both creating the store. an relating it accurately. Every time you would actually be put if he got it wrong or if he told the version that wasn't the official one and one of its primary objectives. filling these stories was to glorify and celebrate the reigning teaching or past kings, Oh well, history of dahomey and king stayed pretty much the same from generation to generation other facets of the kingdoms. History are less documented and sometimes contradictory. Depending on who is doing the telling. We do know that three primary divisions formed among the phone people after their ancestors migrated into what's now Benin, togo- and this is in the thirteenth century- where the allotted to the porter although in the Dahomey Kingdoms, these kingdoms were often at war with that. One another and with other neighbouring kingdoms whose people were part of other ethnic groups, the Hermes kings were central,
virtually every single aspect of the home culture. They were at the heart of political. So military and religious power. Every king was expected to make the kingdom bigger and greater bring his rule while also revering the kings that had come before after his death each king had a quasi religious cults. who uttered and maintained his memory, and once the new king took the throne, he would choose names himself, as well as symbols that would become part of the visual art. There would document his deeds throughout his reign. Each I also had a motto that represented his rule, the home is first king for example, was going to you who came into power around sixteen hundred. symbols were a male bird that was later named after him. A drum and a hunting stay and his motto was: I am the biggest bird and the loudest drum. You can't keep the bird from singing and you can't keep the drums beating, perhaps because Dahomey Second King doctor,
came to power, after usurping his elder brother, its third king, who Dubai Sit down a specific process for naming a successor, although the time The king was inherited. It wasn't. A simple is going from Father two eldest son. Each king select male ere, he thought would be the best candidate to follow him on the throne royal ministers. diviners would have to approve this choice before a new king could ascend Hooja budget Also, the king, who established a homeless capital at above me, this is about sixty five. miles or a hundred four kilometers inland fear imagining the coast of Africa, where it makes that sharp kind of EAST West turn beneath was now. Bananas is partly down that flatter area, so it was basically north in from the coast rather than east or west. As
Imagine and other parts of Africa, so king, who survive, also instituted a lot of the traditions that would become hallmarks of dahomey and culture. One of these was employing annual custom ceremony, which was for the entire king them to participate in as well as any visiting dignitaries, further kingdoms or other parts of the world. Annual customs ceremony was basically a big colorful festival with military parades and religious observances that were tied to voodoo beliefs and practices that were part of the homey and culture. The voodoo tradition in homey included, belief in spirit, world possession of ancestral spirits and reverence of the spirits of deceased ancestor Is it also involve animal and human sacrifices. The person sacrificed for typically prisoners who were executed in honour of prior kings
Some wives of deceased kings would also sacrifice themselves as part of funeral rituals to go with the king into the afterlife, while others would contain live in his palace and maintain the kings memory. In addition, establishing the capital and instituting the annual customs festivals. King Hooja Bargia built the First Royal palace and above me this is a collection of courtyards and their surrounding buildings. of them contained within a Cobb wall. This was in part a defensive maneuver king huge about a new, that's the kingdoms goal was to expand and get bigger. Doing so was going to involve, conquering neighbouring kingdoms, and so he needed to be able to defend himself and the royal family from any kind of retribution or counterattack. Though he built a defensible palace and settled his relatives in the surrounding area so that he could provide sort of a bigger buffer between himself and any potential attack.
There's so king image of Roger is also believed to have started the Hermes first, all female fighting force who Europeans would later refer to as Amazon's. If that picture, Korea, I actually already have a book on them and unless something goes catastrophically wrong, and I figure out it won't work. Somehow Women will be an episode later on, and then we can talk about wonder woman The Homey and Amazon's became a leak fighting force and the traditional part of the king's guard, who do better we'd. From about sixteen forty five until sixteen eighty six, his successor was his son Aqaba, who held the throne until seventeen o eight others brother, a guy with the next in line, and he conquered a number of neighbouring tribes and kingdoms, including ones that have Larger armies than the kingdom of the Homey did one of guidance. Conquests was the port town of Ouida
We don't was already an important player in the Atlantic slave trade at this point and conquering the port weed whether the Dahomey Kingdom soon had its first contact with Europeans more than two hundred years after the first arrived in that part of Africa. And well into the establishment of the slave trade, but before its peak, the kingdom the homo had already shown itself to be eager to expand and conquer its neighbours, and now, with the direct contact with Europeans and the opportunity to sell their prisoners of war as slaves, the kingdom basically had access to a huge pool of resources to be able to continue its expansion. The we're going to talk about exactly how that played out after a brief word from sponsor this episode of study,
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by the time the Atlantic slave trade was abolished. Roughly two million slaves would leave West Africa from the coast of what's now beneath the cycle played out like this How may would conquer one of its neighbours and take its citizens as prisoners of war? It would then sell those people to european slave traders, most of which would be sent to plantations in the Americas May would accept payment in the form of, among other things, weapons which it used to strengthen its army and conquer new territory and defend itself from neighbours. Eventually, this cycle meant that the homey was one of the largest and most careful kingdoms in all of Africa and it had a near monopoly on the west african slave trade that had a military force that was with weapons that were acquired through the slave trade, and at this point about twelve thousand soldiers, served in its army, along with about four thousand of the so called Amazon's. However, the peak of
Mommy's power didn't actually last terribly long to whom was at the height of its influence. The abolition movement was thriving in many parts of the world, and several nations had already stopped partition eating in the Atlantic slave trade, even if they still have slavery. Their borders. This also meant that Dahomey was selling fewer slaves, though slaves than it did cell went at a much higher price. Basically whence the cultural thought turned against slavery, they were able to be like. Well, everyone hates you for this. Now we're going to charge you more money. As the Atlantic slave Trade declined, european powers turned their attention in Africa, away from acquiring,
waves and Word Africa's, not natural resources, many european powers began establishing qualities in Africa in search of plants and minerals and, like the reason, we're not really talking about America Here- is that, while America have become an independent nation at this point, wasn't really to the point of sending colonists to Africa, yet that America was or the United States was really just colonise North american territory. At this point so endow whom the resource that european colonists we're looking for was mostly the palm night which could be used to produce an oil that could be applied to anything from lubricating machines to making soap king XO established a palm oil industry in the whole May, while continuing to also trade and slaves. When king
those successor gladly took the throne. Dahomey was under huge diplomatic pressure from various european powers to end both the slave trade and their practice of human sacrifice, which was still taking place at annual customs clearly resisted this answer. Richard Burton after visiting from Great Britain wrote of the diplomatic efforts quote to abolish human cells, face here, is to abolish to Dahomey. The practice originates from filial, piety, it is sanctioned by long use and custom, and it is strange, lastly, upheld by a powerful and interested priesthood when the transatlantic flights trade was finally abolished in the mid nineteenth century. The homeless power really did start away pretty quickly after a series of confrontations, with the egg backing The home is declining army, could no longer stave off incursions from the French. The homo fought back against France, the early eighteen. Ninety
And then in eighteen, ninety, two after a series of battles in which Dahomey continually lost ground to the French, but a home an army retreated to the capital. Above me, that's when king, but and then he was the penultimate king of the homey ordered the army to towards this Rather than allowing the kingdoms, relics in the safe, sacred, tombs of its ancestors and past kings and other important cultural sites to fall into their hands. king, the hands and surrendered to France on January twenty fifth of eighteen, ninety four and he went into exile. The homey became a french protectorate and the French installed by Hansen's half brother, a Golly AG both the first to the monarchy. Before they D, to him and installed their own provincial government. even though the royal lineage has continued to today, a golly I boat is regarded as the last raining king of the d homemaking them family
to the british view of Rhodesia that we talked about in our recent podcast on that subject, France did not the people have the homey ass quote: mature enough to govern themselves so that of Dahomey, we're both heavily taxed by the french and highly restricted in what they were allowed to do most traditional customs and observances. band, not just the human sacrifices things that would be viewed as much more innocuous were also outlawed. Pride of move children away from their cultural heritage and onto a european christian world view. It seemed like at this point, the history and the culture of the homey was history and culture of the homey was likely going to disappear, especially so the primary visual record, those bow relief, sculpture, There were many of the palaces had been damaged or destroyed by fire. However, the
well, traditions of songs and storytelling were entrenched enough in the phone people that Dahomey in history was kept alive through them, and nineteen. Forty five story, museum of Abu me was established in the palace, is which was the first National Museum in West Africa therapy. of the homey became independent again first, as an independent french state in nineteen, fifty eight and then fully independent in nineteen sixty the gun, of the homo sought UNESCO advice on how to preserve the remaining structures and the buyer relief sculptures in a boom in nineteen. Seventy seven UNESCO offered advice and assistance and placed the entire compound on its list of endangered sites in night Eighty five nineteen, eighty eight, the palace of King Leyla, was entirely rebuild because of damage by then it was one of the last intact. still standing on the site before the existing structure was demolished. The fifty
bar relief sculptures that we're on it were cut out of its walls to preserve them. Most of these were badly damaged and only fifty could be saved. The Getty concert an institute visited the site and ninety ninety one and determined that all of the remaining barley sculptures on the site, including those fifty that had been cut out of the walls of conglomerates palace, were critically endangered. So, for a night eighty three to ninety ninety seven, the republic of Beans, Ministry of Culture, worked together with the Getty Conservation Institute to conserve as many of the relief as possible. This with studying exactly what factors could cause these sculptures to deteriorate, preventing further damage and rebuild palace. They had originally been removed from local artists, assisted with object as well and made replicas the original bar release, which would be installed into the rebuilt palace, the original,
Our relief still exist, but they are part of museum exhibitions, while the replicas adorn the replica palace walls, the republic to whom was renamed beneath after a new constitution was adopted and ninety ninety and were really of glass we know a time of instability and turbulence. A couple of other fires that have further damage the palaces, very, very long story, very short, bananas, Stiller, a public and its government has become a pretty stable democracy and conservation and repair work are still ongoing and above me, on these palaces, we're going to talk about the palaces specifically in the sculptures and why they are so culturally important after another brief word from a sponsor this episode of stuff, you missed in history, glasses, brought you by north.
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by law. Only royalty could build structures taller than one floor, so the palaces at about me were much taller than the homes that surrounded them. This made the whole compound look imposing and powerful. The word palace here is also. misleading- we alluded to this earlier in the show each kings palace was really a compound. Earthen buildings. With batch briefs that were arranged around multiple courtyards each courtyard and its buildings, heads civic functions and a design that was related to governance to religious observances some other activity. One of these this was the poor dodgy Corey. Were guessing at the pronunciation there, and that is where the king held court adjacent to that courtyard word: the council, eating and the guards quarters, along with other administrative buildings, actually do Italians talking about this is a case where we found multiple, contradictory pronunciations for everything from reputable sources that thing random
things on the internet. There would be a UNESCO video and Miriam Webster with totally different pronunciations that everything or no pronunciation. Another was the adulation Hinnu Courtyard, which was more religious significance, the building, Around it were for ancestor, worship, beheld alters also formal receptions would be held there adjacent Adela Hinnu Courtyard. Dela building, which was this huge reception hall with many many doors in a bed room on either end the back doors which, faced away from the courtyard led to the kings. Private residence is so by the time the last palace, Using that word today was built. The overall royal compounded above me was enormous. Today, the world heritage sites in corporate one hundred and ninety acres, that's roughly forty four hectares of land when the com
was burned rather than having it fall into the hands of the french, many of the thatched roof, where what was completely destroyed. So, even though the earthen walls of the palaces themselves were fire resistant and probably survived the initial fire. Their lack of roofs meant that the structures themselves were exposed the elements and because this part of Africa as to rainy season the year, the though whether the wet weather caused the walls themselves to deteriorate in the nineteen thirties. Many of the fat roofs were replaced with corrugated tin, which remove the overhang that had protected many of the bar relief sculptures. So The structures themselves were more protected. With this set up, the barley sculptures were more votes. A ball and were consequently damaged by the elements A guy who was the fifth king of Dahomey, was the first one to adorn the walls of his palace. With these sculptures, they were
by moistening, the earth from termite mounds and adding a new fibres and other materials to strengthen that kind of mud and then sculpting. It and allowing it to dry, the finished relief sculpture would be painted with dies and pigments that were made from plants and girls. Although many other arts and crafts, the phone people were traditionally done by women. Only men carved the bar relief sculptures that were used in the Royal palace is similar. Sculptures did also exist elsewhere in the kingdom and in other parts of the phone culture, but in palaces. became an integral part of documenting the kingdoms. History in addition to historical events, myths and legends. They also depicted animals and plants native to the area GMO symbols and other visual elements the narrative sculptures are presented as pictogram that represent battles or achievements of the king and their tone is overall, pretty celebrates celebratory of the fund people and of the dynasty of the king's. Some of them
the real events, while others record myths and legends of the phone people, as we alluded to previously virus you ve sculpture, continues to be part of artwork among the phone people today today there, Actually, a slave trade memorial at the port of Ouida, which uses barley, sculpture, to depict chain slaves being led to a boat seemingly disappearing into the distance. It's called the gate of no return and its since the end of the road of no return and has meant to commemorate both the slaves who left from the coast of Dahomey and their descendants who live today. The. A boom, in addition to being a historical site but is preserved, because slavery is an enormous thing that happened in the past that we should talk about rather than ignore. If an act. cultural sight for the phone people. Today, king a golly, I go deadline. Witches he's also known as a goal. The agro the third has been king, since nineteen eighty
and although another thing was arrival for the thrown from two thousand until his death in twenty thirteen king, a Golly act. Both a third continues to carry out rituals ceremonies at the sight Let's go video says him meeting descendants of enslaved Africans explaining that he thinks that both westerners and Africans were both responsible for the slave trade and then apologizing for what happened. Benny, formerly apologized, for its role in the transit transatlantic slave trade in ninety ninety nine president much You care coin, followed his apology, which was addressed to the enslaved Africans, their descendants and the world. Tour in which he and other government officials travel to other nations to apologize for their ancestors rule in the slave trade and to ask for forgiveness. So I came at this subject today from kind of a weird angle
I read a very interesting, but also critically missing, important details, her tumblr boast about these palaces and cool. They are the sculptures and almost up- and I was like that interesting and it did not. They mention by name or the slave trade, or anything like that because I was not really familiar with the history of Dahomey. I've had no real
but that would play into it until after I got a book and started researching, it admits kindly ok. How did that entire posed to have all that stuff in it? And not this radically important detail, and so for a while. I thought about not doing this episode and then, when I got to the part about the people today whose ancestors were an active part, the slave trade trying to document this and actively talk about it and then going on a war or world apology to were changed. My thought a little bit one of the Trans Icy on our Facebook page when we will post,
I gasped or articles or whatever about slavery, is that people will come and make this content this. These comments that are like. Well, though, people in Africa's all the slaves, how come nobody ever talked about that right number one! That's like the fact that one person was sailing slaves does not make it ok for a plumber, if you have it bearing the slaves The second thing is: researching this, I kept finding over and over governments in Africa who have like made these massive monuments to the slave trade and have formally apologised to slave trade and there's a whole separate debate about whether government should apologise or not. But it seems to me that a lot of people do in fact talk about this, especially from the african perspective. So the better question would not be wise.
nobody talk about this, but moral at wire by people now listening. He it's definitely not selling. That comes up much in the. U S for sure. I can't speak to other countries about it, but you it's not like this- is mystery information it's being withheld. These are pretty public and publicized tours of apology. A discussion that are going on right, so people are talking about it. We are granted a lot of them were at this point, ten or fifteen or more years ago, at it still baffling today that I read this whole person tumblr. That just did manage to never mention those laid out, but yeah, I'm linked to some pictures of the gate of no return. Monument that's kind of stunning to look at so this has been a pretty heavy episode today. So I have some listener mail,
Is it lighter in tone much lighter in tone? It is about Sadly, nothing of consequence. It is formed, ban dances. First, let me tell you tell you how much I enjoy your podcast. Growth and underground degree and masters degree in history and always find your show, enlightening and enjoyable. Why enjoy about your podcast that you discuss think outside my field of study? You give me a little bit of history in areas that I don't know much about. I haven't chuckle about other people. You complain about your pronunciation of different, not so easy to pronounce names you're talking about. It reminds me of two experiences humorous to me, but I had while living in ITALY. I had to take a frame from northern ITALY to Southern ITALY and my best practice Italian, which wasn't that good. I asked the gentlemen of the ticket counter for a ticket to the small town of pesky. You would have thought that I was speaking absolute Jimmy
his questions and reply immediately exceeded my its high and skills. Only with the help of the personal line behind me could they find my destination by searching through a book of stations, then in a tone, slightly filled with contempt. The man of a ticket office so or something to that point. Oh, you mean path. Keith. She boy did I not get their bright wishing I spoke better italian. fast forward eight hours when I arrived in southern ITALY since TAT Keats Tee. If such small station I had switch trains to a small train car and the front end of the very last plan, or not. Why did it take the wrong train and armed with my new pronunciation, I asked the conductor. Is this the train to pass Keats t? He responded while shaking his head to the side, no pesky she shall, I could do with a chuckle. I couldn't win the pronunciation game
I'm going to skip the second part of this letter because it goes into how to pronounces surname and we don't usually get that deep into being able to identify possible inner listener mail. I wanted to read this for two reasons when it's funny and two it reminds me of a story but I have told the highly before and was going to sell on a previous episode than didn't do when I was in college. I had a two day: comprehensive exam had to pass to graduate, and I had a study group of folks who mostly were also writings. peer tutors with me, and we were all on a trip to prevent a talk about writing centre appear tutoring at a conference.
And we ran into a prior colleague of ours in her brand new Phd adviser, and we were all kind of swapping stories about studying, for this is the exam and we talked about our favorite literary term, which was hammer TIA and her instructor did not know what we were talking about and really, oh you know it's like the fatal flaw in a and a hero of a story that causes the downfall of the hero and her Phd adviser went O Marcia and we were mortified, because we have learned the wrong pronunciation from our in a bona fide phd in English instructor Years of years and years, almost twenty years later, I was telling Holly the story, and I went to the big scenario to look up the word and what was their hammer here, the european added value.
so that is our nothing of consequence listener mail to cap off our very, the episode about the spoils of the Atlantic slave trade. So thank you fan writing us something a little lighter to end the epithet on. If you like, rifle. history or anything else where history cock ass, soon ass. They were also on Facebook, Facebook that complements the history or twitter at Miss history. Tumblr is Mr Street Uptown we're not Tom Rawle thump interested countries start Comstock history, especially sore missed in history, that french or fat com have certain bone cases than others. It's come right back. If you would like to learn more about what we have talked about today, you think are apparent companies website. I tell stuff works, tat the words human trafficking, ensued, search bar trafficking of human beings is not something that has gone away its diligence article far more about it. You could also come to our
but we do have been history, our car, where we have shown our archive of every episode we have returned. I put in some links to two pictures of these policies and of the monument to the slave trade that that we- and you can do pull up more work, missing history, dot com more on this thousands of other topic, stuff works. Available now from my heart, a new series presented by T Mobile for business, the restless ones join me Jonathan Strickland, as I before the coming technological revolution would be restless business leaders who stand right on the cutting edge. They know is a better way to get things done and they are ready, curious excited for the next
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