Listen Siblings, I come in peace,

“The artists, who used to make fine things, are all dead, without having taught any body to make more” — Adahoonzou, King of Dahomey

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It has been claimed that the King of Dahomey in 1792 made the following speech.  Several things are worth noting regarding this speech.  Firstly, it is claimed that Dahomey is very responsible for the enslavement of many of our ancestors.  Secondly, for that reason, I typically avoid putting Dahomey on this site (though I will actively work against this bias).  Thirdly, the analysis in “Africans Should Love Everyone” remains sound and should be read before reading this: for example, the motivators of Africans as ‘fear’ holds through this speech.  Fourthly, chronologically, Dahomey is post-Colombian, so to speak, the Dahomey Empire may more be a response to slavery than a reasoning for it.  Fifthly, the King of Dahomey likely didn’t speak English and less likely would have been translated identically, so take this speech with a grain of salt.  Sixthly, for your information, so-called “Vodoo” or “Vodon” has been linked with the Dahomey Empire–thus this empire has our ancestors too.  Seventhly, the Dahomey Empire was destroyed by Senegal, another African nation, as lead by the mulatto General A. Dodds; the story is tragic, but it also shows another suspicion, that European success in all enterprises relates with African assistance (we should inspire our people to stop working for them).  Eighthly, pay special attention to his language–nowhere does he mention his wars to be unjust: this is important, we simply do not know enough to judge this speech as unjust.  Finally, this speech appears to be a response to the same phrase that we hear to this day: That Africans enslaved one another to increase their war capacity; so herein is a truer story.




I admire the reasoning of the white men; but, with all their sense, it does not appear that they have thoroughly studied the nature of the blacks, whose disposition differs as much from that of the whites, as their colour. The same great Being formed both; and since it hath seemed convenient for him to distinguish mankind by opposite complexions, it is a fair conclusion to presume, that there may be as great a disagreement in the qualities of their minds; there is likewise a remarkable difference between the countries which we inhabit. You, Englishmen, for instance, as I have been informed, are surrounded by the ocean, and by this situation seem intended to hold communication with the whole world, which you do, by means of your ships; whilst we Dahomans, being placed on a large continent, and hemmed in amidst a variety of other people, of the same complexion, but speaking different languages, are obliged, by the sharpness of our swords, to defend ourselves from their incursions, and punish the depredations they make on us. Such conduct in them is productive of incessant wars. Your countrymen, therefore, who alledge that we go to war for the purpose of supplying your ships with slaves, are grossly mistaken.

You think you can work a reformation, as you call it, in the manners of the blacks; but you ought to consider the disproportion between the magnitude of the two countries; and then you will soon be convinced of the difficulties that must be surmounted, to change the system of such a vast country as this. We know you are a brave people, and that you might bring over a great many of the blacks to your opinions, by the points of your bayonets; but to effect this, a great many must be put to death, and numerous cruelties must be committed, which we do not find to have been the practice of the whites: besides, that this would militate against the very principle which is professed by those who wish to bring about a reformation.

In the name of my ancestors and myself I aver, that no Dahoman ever embarked in war merely for the sake of procuring wherewithal to purchase your commodities. I, who have not been long master of this country, have, without thinking of the market, killed many thousands, and I shall kill many thousands more. When policy or justice requires that men be put to death, neither silk, nor coral, nor brandy, nor cowries, can be accepted as substitutes for the blood that ought to be spilt for example sake: besides, if white men chuse to remain at home, and no longer visit this country for the same purpose that has usually brought them hither, will black men cease to make war? I answer, by no means; and if there be no ships to receive their captives, what will become of them? I answer, for you, they will be put to death. Perhaps you may be asked, how will the blacks be furnished with guns and powder? I reply by another question, had we not clubs, and bows, and arrows, before we knew white men? Did not you see me make custom—annual ceremony—for Weebaigah, the third King, of Dahomy? And did you not observe, on the day such ceremony was performing, that I carried a bow in my hand, and a quiver filled with arrows on my back? These were the emblems of the times; when, with such weapons, that brave ancestor fought and conquered all his neighbours. God made war for all the world; and every kingdom, large or small, has practised it more or less, though perhaps in a manner unlike, and upon different principles. Did Weebaigah sell slaves? No; his prisoners were all killed to a man. What else could he have done with them? Was he to let them remain in his country, to cut the throats of his subjects? This would have been wretched policy indeed; which, had it been adopted, the Dahoman name would have long ago been extinguished, instead of becoming, as it is at this day, the terror of surrounding nations. What hurts me most is, that some of your people have maliciously represented us in books, which never die; alledging that we sell our wives and children, for the sake of procuring a few kegs of brandy. No! we are shamefully belied, and I hope you will contradict, from my mouth, the scandalous stories that have been propagated; and tell posterity that we have been abused. We do, indeed, sell to the white men a part of our prisoners, and we have a right so to do. Are not all prisoners at the disposal of their captors? and are we to blame, if we send delinquents to a far country? I have been told you do the same. If you want no more slaves from us, why cannot you be ingenuous, and tell the plain truth; saying, that the slaves you have already purchased are sufficient for the country for which you bought them; or that the artists, who used to make fine things, are all dead, without having taught any body to make more? But for a parcel of men, with long heads, to sit down in England, and frame laws for us, and pretend to dictate how we are to live, of whom they know nothing, never having been in a black man’s country during the whole course of their lives, is to me somewhat extraordinary! No doubt they must have been biassed by the report of some one who has had to do with us; who, for want of a due knowledge of the treatment of slaves, found that they died on his hands, and that his money was lost; and seeing others thrive by the traffic, he, envious of their good luck, has vilified both black and white traders.

You have seen me kill many men at the customs; and you have often observed delinquents at Grigwhee, and others of my provinces, tied, and sent up to me. I kill them, but do I ever insist on being paid for them? Some heads I order to be placed at my door, others to be strewed about the market-place, that people may stumble upon them, when they little expect such a sight. This gives a grandeur to my customs, far beyond the display of fine things which I buy; this makes my enemies fear me, and gives me such a name in the Bush*. Besides, if I neglect this indispensable duty, would my ancestors suffer me to live? would they not trouble me day and night, and say, that I sent nobody to serve them? that I was only solicitous about my own name, and forgetful of my ancestors? White men are not acquainted with these circumstances; but I now tell you, that you may hear, and know, and inform your countrymen, why customs are made, and will be made, as long as black men continue to possess their own country: the few that can be spared from this necessary celebration, we sell to the white men; and happy, no doubt, are such, when they find themselves on the path for Grigwhee, to be disposed of to the Europeans—“We shall still drink water†,” say they to themselves; “white men will not kill us; and we may even avoid punishment, by serving our new masters with fidelity.”

* The country expression for the woods.

† Meaning—“We shall still live.”

Original: 1793 History of Dahomy by Archibald Dalzel

Underlying source: “collected from the communications of” Lionel Abson, governor since 1766 (“Whydah” aka Ouidah).

Background: “Whydah” is also spelled Ouidah. “Adahoonzou” or Adanzu died in 1789 of smallpox.

Notes: The interpolated words “annual ceremony” after “make Custom” are not in the original. The word “Customs” is capitalized throughout. Footnotes are in the original.


Related Posts:

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Africans Should Love Everyone Love Everyone
Diop’s Two Cradle TheorySouthern/Northern Cradle

European success in all enterprises relates with African assistance


    1. King,

      “Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail” — Marva Collins

      It’s upon readers to become leaders, leading a team to what is achievable.

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