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
 
  Dahomey
  Slave Trade
  Vodun
  Benin and the Diaspora
History of Ouidah
Visiting the Museum
Visiting Ouidah
Resources
The Xwéda Kingdom

Click to enlarge: Artifacts from the palace of the king of Xwéda at Savi, recovered by archaeologist Kenneth Kelly.
Xwédan Artifacts
 

The Xwédan kingdom with its capital at Savi and port of Ouidah (or Gléwé) was one of the most important trade entrepôts during the emergence of large-scale and sustained trade between Western Europe, the Americas , and Africa ca. 1600 AD. Xwédan kings exchanged captured individuals to traders for European manufactured goods and exotic items from as far away as the Indian Ocean . As this trade reached a zenith in the coastal area of modern-day Bénin, Savi served as a political center for regional administration, a religious center for python (i.e., Dangbe) worship, and an economic hub. Weekly markets near Savi drew thousands, who bartered locally produced goods, or exchanged cowries as currency, for other trade items.

The various kings of Xwéda profited by taxing trade conducted in the market and goods moving through their borders. The trade corridor from Savi to the coast became so profitable that it was targeted by King Agadja of Dahomey . In 1727, Dahomean troops advanced on Savi and burned the palace to the ground. The ruins of the palace complex held such political significance that Agadja forbade Xwédans from resettling in direct proximity to the palace.

Click to enlarge: European engraving of the coronation of the king of Xwéda.
Engraving of the
coronation of the
Xwédan king.
 

The museum attempts to illuminate the Xwédans lifestyle within the palace as well as in the surrounding countryside through historical illustrations and through archaeological material uncovered by archaeologists Kenneth Kelly and Neil Norman . These materials, circa 1600-1900 AD, were uncovered over several years of intense archaeological excavation around the present-day village of Savi . Materials include remnants of a variety of materials imported from Europe and the new world: porcelain, glass (in the form of wine or gin bottles), bricks, and beads. Also included are materials that were fabricated either in Xwéda or in other areas of Africa , such as locally produced ceramics, metal tools, quartz beads, and stone tools.

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