Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.The Ouidah Museum of HistoryCowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.
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A "sacred" python:  the kingdom of Dahomey adopted worship of the python from the Xwéda kingdom, and python veneration is continued in Ouidah to this day.
About the Museum
Themes
Portuguese Fort
  Xwéda Kingdom
  Dahomey
 
  Vodun
  Benin and the Diaspora
History of Ouidah
Visiting the Museum
Visiting Ouidah
Resources
The Slave Trade

During the 16th through the 19th century, the trade in humans across the Atlantic dramatically changed the cultures within and the balance of power among European, New World , and African states. Dutch, English, French, Danish, Portuguese, and Spanish trade companies (both state-owned and private) competed to dominate the “triangular trade” – transporting money and goods to Africa to barter for slaves and goods….transporting slaves to the West Indies and the Americas…and completing the cycle by transporting New World goods back to the Americas. The impacts on the Americas and the Caribbean were enormous, literally changing the faces of the populations there. In many areas, tensions continue to exist between European and African descendants.

Click to Enlarge: Chain used to control enslaved individuals en route to the European ships bound for the New World.
Slave Chain
 

Competition was also fierce among African states, for control of the slave trade meant great wealth and therefore political and military prowess. In the area of modern-day Benin , there were three notable states involved in the slave trade: Allada, Xwéda, and Dahomey. Though trade dominance shifted for many decades, as of 1727 the kingdom of Dahomey succeeded in usurping trade from Allada and Xwéda by violent appropriation and complete destruction. The wealth amassed by Dahomey through the slave trade allowed its kings to maintain a level of centralized power and regional dominance unseen by previous rulers in the area.

Click to enlarge: Wood burning.  Image of enslaved Africans bound in chains, marching toward the coast.
Artistic rendering of the
march of the
slaves to the coast
 

In addition to large-scale socio-political impacts, the slave trade affected the lives of countless African individuals and families. African traders often acquired slaves through raids or wars, or by purchasing individuals from other African traders bringing slaves from deep in the interior. Slaves were marched in chains, beaten and abused, housed in unbearably cramped quarters, and branded even before they boarded European ships. As many as one-third of a ship's slaves would perish before reaching the New World. Once they arrived, they were soon re-sold to labor on plantations, in homes, and in skilled trades such carpentry or blacksmithing.

Exhibits in the Ouidah Museum of History attempt to depict the treatment of African slaves prior to sale to European traders, during transportation, and upon arrival across the Atlantic through historical illustrations, artists' renditions, and found artifacts.

Shield adorning the entrance to the old Portuguese Fort, now the Ouidah Museum of History.
Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.s