Dahomey and the Slave Trade: Reflections on the Historiography of the Rise of Dahomey
This chapter offers the less ambitious venture of a critical review of the existing historiography of the rise of Dahomey. The historiography of the kingdom of Dahomey, emerged as the most powerful state on the 'Slave Coast' of West Africa in the early eighteenth century, is immensely rich. The West African coast later known as the 'Slave Coast' was originally discovered by the Portuguese in the 1470s, but did not become important in the Atlantic trade until much later. In1730s, interpretation of Dahomian history had become bound up with polemics over the slave trade, in a controversy over the motives of King Agaja in attacking the coastal kingdoms of Allada and Whydah. Eighteenth-century accounts of Dahomey present a consistent picture of it, characterized by three principal elements: militarism, brutality, and despotism in government. The image of Dahomey as a militaristic and despotic monarchy, given to the practice of human sacrifice on an extravagant scale, is therefore difficult to avoid.