This morning we got up at 8am for breakfast and were picked up by our guides Vincent (of Nigeria to Ghana) and Jean (of Benin and Togo) from our side to side lodgings in Cotonou.
We made our introductions to the two new additions to our group: Lauren who flew in the night before at 9pm from CDG and Priyanka who flew in earlier this morning at 2am from ABJ. And what better backdrop as an icebreaker than the massive Amazonian Warrior statue we were finally able to gain access to after a failed attempt the day before (due to an Afrobeats concert that blocked off the streets)?
After quick pitstops at the bizarre Place de Bulgarie and Red Star Square, our guides picked up some breakfast and drove us 3 hours north to the Royal Palace Museum at Abomey, formerly of the Dahomey (of “The Woman King” fame) Kingdom.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, they palaces are group of earthen structures topped by straw roofs built by the Fon people of the Dahomey Kingdom between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Controversially, the Dahomey were one of the main beneficiaries of the Atlantic Slave Trade; the construction of these palaces were mainly funded by capturing slaves from other neighboring ethnic African tribes to sell to the Europeans.
After the abolition of the slave trade and the Dahomey folded into what is now known as the country of Benin, these palaces were preserved a a museum and are regarded as one of the most historically significant and renowned sites in West Africa:
Each king here had a palace built for himself, the fanciest being the one belonging to King Gbehanzin (pronounced like Queen Beyoncé).
Gbehanzin has been regarded in local folklore as a hero for being the African tribe that chose to wage war against the enslaving Europeans instead of becoming complicit in aiding the slave trade.
We had a museum appointed guide the whole time, showing us around for an hour with a high quality and enthusiastic tour. However, it was noticeable how he largely skipped over the torture and war tactics of the Dahomey Kingdom and surprisingly not mentioning the recent Hollywood film “The Woman King” at all; it is said that Benin was not really happy with the film’s historical alterations in sanitizing the image of Dahomey Kingdom.
Inside we saw various relics of deities such as the God of both protection and fertility:
After signing the guestbook, admiring some local cows that reminded me of the Ankole-Watusi back in South Sudan 8 months ago, and a great fried fish and sesame beefsteak vegetable lunch in the area . . .
- At time of posting in Abomey, it was 37 °C - Humidity: 35% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear and blazing hot