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Monday, June 26, 2017

HISTORY: How The Warrior King Of Dahomey Invaded Abeokuta With His Famous Amazons With The Aim Of Enslaving Every Single Person In 1851

WRITTEN BY AND CULLED FROM ABIYAMO


BACKGROUND
In 1851, there was no Nigeria. There was no Nigerian Army to defend the country from external attacks. The whole area we know as Nigeria today was nothing but a patchy collection of kingdoms, empires, chiefdoms and tribal enclaves all lumped together under the ‘protection’ of Great Britain.


In this messy porridge of the foreign imperial power was a prominent city called Abeokuta, a city known for some of Africa’s most intelligent minds and revolutionary fighters against injustice.
Settled by the Egbas fleeing from the power of the almighty Oyo Empire that was in a decline, Abeokuta became an important center for the lucrative palm oil trade. It was the capital of the Egbas and it was not long before conflicts broke out between the Egba merchants and the slave hunters from the neighbouring Dahomey. In 1851, the legendary Battle of Abeokuta was launched and that is precisely what will be the focus of this article. Why did the people of Dahomey invade Abeokuta and what happened?
The street next to Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, 1826. Photo: National Archives, U.I. Abeokuta was a walled city and relics of the old city still exist. 
DAHOMEY
A vassal state of the Oyo Empire from 1740 to 1832 and a French protectorate from 1894 to 1904, the Kingdom of Dahomey was an African kingdom (situated in what is now the Republic of Benin). It existed from around 1600 till 1894 when its last ruler, King Behanzin, was defeated by French forces leading to the annexation of his kingdom as part of the French colonial empire.
The Kingdom of Dahomey around 1894
Developed by the Fon people (strict followers of the Vodun religion) on the Abomey Plateay in the early 17th century, Dahomey became a regional power in the 18th century and at the height of its power, conquered major cities on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. A sophisticated kingdom, Dahomey was built on an economy that thrived on conquest and slave labour. Add the commercial connections with the European powers to their efficient taxation systems and their dreaded military, you will then understand why Dahomey was such a terrible pain in the ass of its neighbours.
THE FAMOUS DAHOMEY AMAZONS
Known for its military prowess, Dahomey relied on the immense skills of the all-female military unit known as the Dahomey Amazons. Several kings of Dahomey depended on these warrior women and when the aggressive King Ghezo decided to take on Abeokuta, the Amazons were right behind him.
BATTLE-TESTED: Dahomey Amazon veterans of Fon king BĂ©hanzin, son of king Glele, son of Ghezu at the annual meeting in Abomay (Abomey) in 1908.
Dance of the Fon chiefs during celebrations.
It must be noted however that there were several times the Amazons called for peace with Abeokuta but their king and the male military battalions insisted war was the only answer. Also known as N’Nonmiton (meaning ‘Our Mothers’ in Fon), the all-female military regiment played a very significant during the reign of Ghezo from 1818 to 1858. Ghezo was a king who focused immensely on fighting and he did much to expand the army.
Dahomey Amazons around 1890.
The N’Nonmiton were battle-tested veterans, trained to be indifferent to pain and death, they were experts in warfare and the execution of prisoners. Mainly virgins, they were trained to kill and were not allowed to have children or get married (although they were all legally married to the king).
Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, leader of the Amazons, drawn by Frederick Forbes, 1851.
These female fighters achieved a semi-divine status so you can imagine the pall of terror that fell on the people of Egbaland when they heard an invasion was on its way. By the middle of the 19th century, the N’Nonmiton reached up to 6,000 women, forming a third of the entire Dahomian Army. They were generally regarded as superior combatants to their male counterparts.
THE BATTLE
Dahomey needed slaves to maintain its system and the thirst of blood had made Ghezo issue several threats to Abeokuta. In March 1851, King Ghezo decided to strike ruthlessly. It was an eventful military exercise. This was how The Times of 10th April, 1852 described the military catastrophe, and you will find the Lagos connection particularly interesting:
The king of the Egbas is called the Alake. During the Battle of Abeokuta, Townsend, an Anglican missionary, was one of the witnesses. 
The labours of the Church Missionary Society on the West Coast of Africa enabled the chief promoters of that association to demonstrate to the Government that on the frontiers of Dahomey, and within the reach of the attacks of its savage ruler, there exists a people inhabiting the Egba province of the Yoruba kingdom, who are in all respects the opposite of their ferocious neighbours. Their chief town, called Abbeokuta, contains 50,000 inhabitants, and is situated on the river Ogu, which is navigable for about 50 miles down to the sea at the island of Lagos. Their markets are frequented by traders from the Niger and the interior of Africa. These Yoruba chiefs are entirely opposed to the slave trade, and they live in constant dread of the slave hunts and hostilities of their slave-dealing neighbours. It is a very remarkable circumstance that several hundred liberated Africans had found their way in vessels, procured and freighted by themselves, from Sierra Leone to Badagry and Abbeokuta; and the English missionaries have undoubtedly succeeded in establishing there one of the most successful missions we yet possess on the Guinea coast. But, on the other hand, Lagos, which commands the mouth of the river Ogu and the trade of Abbeokuta, was in the hands of a slave-trading chief, KOSOKO, who had driven his relative, AKITOYE, from the throne; and the King of DAHOMEY, jealous of the trade and independence of Abbeokuta, had repeatedly declared his intention to make war upon it and to destroy it.
STUBBORN INVADER: King (Ahosu) Ghezo depiction in 1851 publication with the royal umbrella over his head. Check out his dressing.
These threats were soon realized. In March 1851, the King of Dahomey marched against Abbeokuta to exterminate the British missionaries, and to reduce the black population to slavery. A severe action was fought under the walls of the town, and in the presence of the English residents. The Dahomians were defeated and on the next day no less than 1,209 of their warriors were found dead upon the field. This abortive attempt was followed by other hostilities between the tribes involved in this interminable African quarrel, which placed the British residents and traders on the coast in considerable peril, as KOSOKO, the Chief of Lagos, was known to be advancing to attack that settlement; and it became apparent that the safety both of the missionaries, the traders, and the liberated Africans in these free districts, depended entirely on the restraint which could be put upon the hostile operation the Chief of Lagos. There seems reason to believe that these operations were the result of a preconcerted scheme, arranged and assisted by the Brazilian slave-dealers, between the King of DAHOMEY and the slave-trading chiefs on the coast.
Upon the receipt of this information in September last, Lord PALMERSTON ordered Whyday, which is the principal port of Dahomey, to be strictly blockaded, and the Commodore on the station was instructed to consider the practicability of sending a small force into Lagos for the purpose of expelling the then chief and the slavedealers by whom he was supported, and of re-establishing in his stead AKITOYE, the former chief, who was driven out by the slavedealers on account of his hostility to the slave trade.
If these orders could be executed, Lord PALMERSTON added that Lagos might become an important outlet for the commerce of the interior, and a diffusing centre of civilization, instead of a den of barbarism. Before, however, the formal instructions to commence these operations had reached the coast of Africa Mr. Consul BEECROFT had in some degree anticipated their tenour.
He arrived off Lagos in HER MAJESTY’s steamer Bloodhound on the 13th of November, and opened a negotiation with KOSOKO, then Chief of Lagos, to induce him to renounce the slave trade…
THE DEFEAT
The stinging beating that was handed out to the Dahomians was big news and it was reported in the papers of the Western powers. For example, on a Saturday morning, July 19, 1851, the Poughkeepsie Eagle reported it thus:
‘Defeat of the Amazons.
The defeat of the Amazons of Dahomy before the walls of Abbeokuta, is perhaps a more important event than most readers would suppose. Abbeokuta is in the kingdom of Yoruba, about 56 miles nearly north from Badagry, (lat. 6 30 north, lon. 3 east,) which is its nearest port. At Badagry there is a British port, and no slave trade. It is however, only about ten miles, westward, to the boundary of Dahomy, and some 25 or 30 miles to Porto Novo, where, at Whidah, and Great and Little Popo, the slave trade is largely carried on. We believe it also exists in the Lagos country, which includes Badagry, and extends some distance distance along the coast to the east. Here, for about 300 miles, is the only coast north of the equator on which that trade has not been suppressed.
The population of Abbeokuta it is said, on high authority, to be at least 50,000, and many estimates make it much higher. About 3,000 of them are recaptives from slave ships, who have learned something of civilization and Christianity at Sierra Leone. At their own expense they have returned nearly a thousand miles, to this, their native region, mostly in condemned slave ships, which they have bought for that purpose, and disposed as they could at Badagry.
There are two Missions at Abbeokuta, one established by the English Church Missionary Society, and the other by the English Wesleyans. The former had, at the date of the last official returns, one native ordained missionary and five European; nine native school teachers, six schools, 418 scholars, and 122 communicants.
The ‘constant attendants’ on public worship were estimated, in August 1849, at ‘500 at the lowest calculation. – The ordained native missionary is the Rev. Samuel Crowther, originally a slave from this vicinity, educated at Sierra Leone and in England. The first convert baptised by him was his own mother. This returned population have been making large calculations for introducing the arts of civilized life.
The American present at the battle, Mr.Bowen, went out under the patronage of the Southern Baptist Board of Missions, to attempt a passage through Yoruba and other intervening countries, to Bournou, in Central Africa.
The English Missionaries at Sierra Leone have been for some time making preparations, by the study of languages and otherwise for penetrating to the same region by the same route.
The defeat of the Amazons is doubtless owing, in a great measure, to the superior civilization of the returned Egbas. The Kingdom of Yoruba, formerly powerful, has for some years been rent and almost desolated by civil and foreign wars – Since the recaptured Egbas began to return in 1840, and especially since the establishing of the missions, the chiefs at Abbeokuta have shown strong inclination to favor civilization. Its influence in saving them from the terrible Dahomians will do much to confirm them in its favor. Probably, as has been suggested, this victory will do much to crush the remains of the slave trade; and it will be a means of keeping open the best road for Christian civilization into the populous heart of Africa.
This is the first trial of strength between partially civilized and wholly barbarous Africans in that part of the continent, and it will do much to establish the superiority of the former, in the minds of all who hear of it. –BOSTON TRAVELLER’
IMPACT AND AFTERMATH
This battle later proved to be a major factor facilitating the spread of Christianity in Yorubaland as the imperialists quickly took advantage of the vulnerability of the Egbas and used the opportunity to spread ‘Christian civilization’ in exchange for protection from marauding neighbours like the Dahomians. The Egbas got substantial assistance and weapons from the British and it was with these they were able to defeat King Ghezo and his army. The Dahomians did not give up and in 1864, they attacked Abeokuta again but they were crushed.
Today, Abeokuta remains the largest city in Ogun State and a major bastion of the Anglican Church. It Ghezo had been successful in the Battle of Abeokuta in 1851, Ogun State and even probably Lagos as we have it today, would have been under the French and subsequently parts of the Republic of Benin. That is no doubt an interesting twist to history if you imagine it for a moment. Imagine everyone in Ogun and Lagos speaking French. Amazing, isn’t it?

SOURCE: Abiyamo.com

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