"Béhanzin (Gbêhanzin) Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th century. He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization. Who was really Béhanzin?
Born in 1844 in Abomey, Béhanzin was the eleventh king of Dahomey from 1889 to 1894. His name, Kondo, was changed to Béhanzin after he succeeded to his father Glèlè. His personal symbols were the shark, the egg, and two coconut palm trees, while those of his father were the lion and the ritual knife of Gu. His name actually meant ‘the egg of the world or the son of the shark‘. His great love for the freedom of his country, culture, and people led him to courageously and fiercely defend the land of his ancestors. He led the resistance and fight for the Dahomey’s freedom.
In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people, as was (and still is) the practice with Europeans colons. By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo. In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Béhanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.
Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892
Combat de Dogba au Dahomey, 19 September 1892
In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou; Béhanzin, now king after Glèlè’s sudden death, prepared for war. Béhanzin’s army, with rifles supplied by the Germans, were getting too strong for neighboring French colonies. Béhanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts—militarily at Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo. The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities. A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Béhanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. The peace lasted for two years. However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did. Béhanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war."