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Benin. The Fon: a proud people

The Fon people are the largest ethnic group of Benin, and make up 39% of an estimated population of 10 million inhabitants.
Fon is also a language, one of the most popular in Benin, not only because of the numerical strength of this group, but also because these people are scattered throughout several regions of the country, also influencing in this way the languages of other groups. This ethnicity is mainly settled in the area around Abomey, capital of the ancient kingdom of Danxomé (Danhomè), in central Benin, but there are also large Fon communities in the South.

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This ethnicity is mainly settled in the area around Abomey, capital of the ancient kingdom of Danxomé (Danhomè), in central Benin, but there are also large Fon communities in the South.

A glorious past

The kingdom of Danxomé remained long impregnable to French colonialists. But in the end, exhausted and eager to put an end to the war with the Europeans and to the suffering of his people, King Béhanzin (1890-1894) surrendered to the French Colonel Dodds, in Goho, after setting the royal palace on fire and hiding the private treasures of the court to prevent the desecration of both land and ancestors. Behanzin was exiled to the island of Martinique in the West Indies and later transferred to Algeria, in Blida, where he died in 1906. His remains were repatriated in 1928 to Benin, and after a solemn funeral, Behanzin was buried in his palace, in Djimé, a few kilometers from Abomey.

dos 1 - 3The Fon, also called Adja-Fon, because of their origins in the Adja Tado plateau, in the nearby Togo, allegedly abandoned this area towards the end of the thirteenth century following some internal disputes. The group that left the area later split into different communities: some headed for Porto-Novo (in the Southeast), others went to Allada (in the south-central region), and others to the plateau of Guédevi (in the center-north) where they founded the kingdom of Danxomé.
The kingdom of Danxomé, whose capital was Agbomé, seat of the royal palace and the administrative center, was founded in the seventeenth century.

According to scholars, Houégbadja (1645-1685) was the sovereign who established the basic legal rules of the Kingdom, those rules regarding: succession, political missions of the rulers and so forth. Houégbadja was considered the real founder of the Danxomé kingdom. His motto, ‘make Danxomé get bigger’, was adopted and scrupulously followed by the nearly 12 monarchs who succeeded him.

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The Danxomé sovereigns planned with foresight the wars of conquest for the enlargement of the kingdom, the recruitment of women (intrepid Amazons) in the army, the development of agriculture, cultural life, religion (the worship of kings and that of the dead was the official religion), democracy based on dialogue, consensus building and approval by the people, slave traffic, tax rules which also financed royal members, international diplomacy and public offices.

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Each of the 12 kings who followed Houégbadja, made Danxomé a prosperous, powerful, respected and feared kingdom, which reached its apogee in the nineteenth century with King Guézo (1818-1848).
The kingdom of Danxomé was based on a strong central government and a hierarchical territorial administration. In the nineteenth century, the kingdom was considered the most outstanding state of Africa because of its organization similar to that of the European states. At that time, the territory of Danxomé stretched along 50 kilometers of coast, from Grand Popo in Porto-Novo (from West to East), up to the Couffo, the Ouémé and Zou rivers; Mahi, Yoruba, Dassa and Save were vassal kingdoms. The French occupation though it affected the kingdom greatly, did not cancel its rich culture. (JB.S.)

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