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Ganyé Hessou
Dako Donou
Agoli Agbo





King Agoli Agbo
  King Agoli Agbo, c. 1894
The king of Abomey is a sacred being. He has several titles: Dada (father of the whole community), Dokounnon (holder and distributor of wealth), Sèmèdo (master of the world), Aïnon (master of the earth), Jèhossou (master of pearls), etc. His totem is the leopard.

The insignia of royal power are the kataklè (three-legged stool), the afokpa (sandals), the avotita (woven cloth decorated with appliqué work), the awè (parasol), the mankpo (recade or ceremonial staff), the so (gun) and the hwi (sabre).

The stool and shoes legitimate the newly elected king. The cloth, the parasol and the recade are necessary symbols for his presentation to the public. The recade also represents the king in all places and at all times both in his lifetime and after his death. The sabre and gun imply the warlike character of royalty.

The king has mystic, religious and temporal power and enjoys a number of privileges such as wearing sandals and being carried in a hammock.

Awakening of the king of Dahomey, in Mac Leod, Paris, 1821      
Awakening of the king of Dahomey (Guézo),
in Mac Leod, Paris, 1821
As a mark of respect his subjects approach him only by prostrating themselves with bare chest and bare feet.

Thirteen kings succeeded each other in Abomey, each one having his assumed name or symbol of power taken from an allegorical sentence recalling his career, his vision or his plans.

Pass your mouse on the name of each one of the kings in the list on your left to see their biography. ]

Reigned from 1600 to 1620. His emblem is a bird or a drum.
Meaning: as no one can stop the bird from singing, the drum cannot be stopped from resounding.
Explanation: no one can prevent Ganyé Hessou from giving counsel from the throne of his brother Dako.

DAKO-DONOU (1620-1645) is represented by an earthenware jar of indigo and a flint.
These two objects recall a feat of arms when he was still in Allada - as soon as Aizonou Donou, his enemy, was killed, the heart was placed in a jar which Dako had rolled over the ground. Dako-Donou was successful in firmly establishing the domination of the Allada people on the Abomey plateau.

Reigned from 1645 to 1685. He is sometimes represented by an elephant and has a fish and a net as emblem.
Meaning: the fish which escapes the net does not return to it.
Explanation: I shall not be trapped again by my enemies. He is the true founder of the Danhomè kingdom which he organized on a legal basis. His motto "make Danhomè ever greater" was adopted by all his successors. Houégbadja built his "Agbomè" residence, a palace surrounded by several walls, whose name became that of the capital of the kingdom.

AKABA (1685-1708) is symbolized by a chameleon at the top of a bombax.
Meaning: on the strength of my experience (because of his advanced age on his accession to the throne) I will build the glory of Danhomè slowly but surely. He extended the kingdom in the east up to the Ouémé river.

AGADJA (1708-1740) compared himself to green wood which has fallen by itself and which should not be burned. Surnamed "the taker of boats" or "the conquering king" he led a number of military campaigns to extend his kingdom. In spite of his defeat by the Yoruba at Oyo, he consolidated the Danhomè army and regularly used the amazons (female warriors) in war. The taking of the kingdoms of Allada (1724) and of Savi (1727) gave Danhomè the opportunity for direct trading with Europeans.

Reigned from 1740 to 1774. He is symbolized both by a dressed buffalo which nobody can undress and a small plant which grows in spite of leaves which litter the earth. These symbols highlight the courage and resistance of the reigning sovereign in spite of covetous opponents and adverse circumstances. Tégbéssou organized the slave trade and set up a dignitary (Yovogan) in Ouidah responsible for relations with the Europeans.

Reigned from 1774 to 1789. His name means "the pebble is not cold in water". Explanation: the king is able to overcome all perils. His emblem is a sparrow. Kpingla continued Tégbéssou's policy and lead several military campaigns.

Reigned from 1789 to 1797.
He is represented by a pineapple (Agon, which is also the name for the African palmyra palm). "Lightening strikes the palm tree but, in spite of its height, the palmyra palm escapes". This is a direct allusion to the king's ability to dodge traps and overcome difficulties whilst reigning. He became popular through a series of social reforms.

ADANDOZAN (1797-1818) : his name, reign and symbols have been obliterated from Abomey historical tradition. He is criticized for having been bloodthirsty and for having usurped his brother, the future Guézo, from power. In fact, a number of his acts seem to have been attributed to Guézo.
He was dethroned with the help of Francisco de Souza, a slave trader and friend of Guézo.

GUEZO (1818-1858), hunter in his youth, is symbolized by a naked buffalo. Meaning: having become powerful the buffalo crosses the town without meeting an obstacle. Explanation: the king's enemies cannot overcome him. He reorganized the army which included the amazons and well-trained soldiers. His reign, which was marked by several wars, allowed Danhomè to throw off the political domination of Oyo. Guézo encouraged the plantation of oil palms and the cultivation of cassava, corn, bananas and groundnuts.

Reigned from 1858 to 1889. His emblem is the lion rampaging in the bush. His name, derived from the allegorical sentence "no one knows how to raise a ploughed field", implies the king's power. Glèlè, like his predecessors, led several military campaigns. He also allowed the French to settle in Koutonou (future Cotonou) and trade there.

GBEHANZIN (1889-1894) gets his assumed name from "the world holds the egg which the earth desires". He is consequently symbolized by an egg or else by a ferocious shark capable of devouring the whites who want to take his land. Vigilant in defending the independence and territorial integrity of Danhomè, Gbêhanzin fought fiercely against the French invaders. He is considered as being one of the strongest African opponents of colonial conquests.

AGOLI-AGBO (1894-1900) was the former general of Gbêhanzin's army. His emblem is a leg and a stone, a bow and a broom. His name is derived from the sentence: "Be careful Agbomè ! Allada stumbled but did not fall thanks to the help of the French". The last king of Danhomè expressed in this way his gratitude to France. The protectorate treaty that he signed with General Dodds considerably limited his power and reduced him to a traditional chief. He was soon deported and Danhomè integrated the colony of Dahomey.

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