Abomey is the ancient capital of the powerful Kingdom of Dahomey that existed from the early 17th century till 1900. Tradition required for each king to have his own palace built, adjacent to that of his father. By the time the last king was ousted by the French, it was 12 palaces stretching over an area of 44ha surrounded by the wide moat. The buildings were all made of clay and if the site had not been granted UNESCO Heritage status, very little would be left. But UNESCO money two palaces - those of King Glele und Guezo -have been restored and turned into a really informative museum.
King Guezo played a crucial part in the city of Ouidah becoming the center of the profitable slave trade between Benin and Brazil. His majesty granted the Brazilian Francisco de Souza the right to ship the human cargo across the Atlantic, out of Ouidah. Why did Guezo allow his own subjects to be sold into slavery? Souza came to his aid during a power struggle between Guezo and his brother. A pattern well known in colonial rule.
The last Dahomeynian emperor, King Gbehanzin, was less cooperative with foreigners. He fiercely fought against the French army, but had to surrender after the French brought in Senegalese troops to support them. The king and four wives were deported to Martinique. The items on display in the palace museum are truly fascinating: the thrones of all 12 kings, their symbols of power (umbrella, cane), tools used for farming, jewelry, weapons. Each palace was dominated by two large yards, the reception hall, the tomb of the King and places of sacrifices. Very disturbing two French drawings that portray the natives as savages, brutally slaughtering Senegalese soldiers who were brought in by the French to help defeat the Dahomenian king. One shows a person being burned on the stack, which never happened, but since such practices were familiar to Europeans, most likely they believed the propaganda.