The history of the Kingdom of Dahomey , with its capital
Abomey, is rich and intense, and the authority and influence
its kings had over their subjects and the kingdoms they subsumed
are indisputable. The kingdom had a greater degree of centralization
and militarization than previously dominant area kingdoms,
and its conquests and traditions are notable for their violence.
When King Agadja of Dahomey defeated the kingdoms of Allada
and Xwéda in 1724 and 1727 respectively, thousands
of the defeated were either killed or sold as slaves. Through
these conquests Dahomey gained control of the slave trade
with the Europeans at Gléwé (now Ouidah).
Extreme reverence for the kings of Dahomey is an important part of Dahomean culture. Traditionally, each king is represented by a symbol, and each king's symbol is displayed collectively on an appliquéd quilt. Though kings were not deified, they did have great religious significance. Dahomean tradition is marked by elaborate regularly-staged ceremonies, often involving human sacrifice.
In 1894, France sent troops against Dahomey , and though Dahomey was victorious in several notable battles including the battle at Dogba (at which the chief of the French army was killed), Dahomey was eventually defeated and became a colony of France . King Béhanzin was exiled to Martinique, and King Agooli Agbo ruled until his exile to Gabon in 1900. However, the power of Dahomey was not extinguished: in 1961 when modern-day Bénin gained its independence from France , the name given to the new country evoked past glory: Dahomey .
Museum collections incorporate many objects most closely associated with the culture of the Kingdom of Dahomey, including an appliquéd “king” quilt and traditional drums. Images from ceremonies and from the war between France and Dahomey illustrate moments in Dahomean history.