Course side – In the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, we do not say that the king is dead

On December 17, the King of Benin Sagbadjou Glélé passed away. Each week, Stéphane Bern deciphers the royal news with a new meeting: Côté Cours.

In Benin, in the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, we do not say that the king is dead. According to local customs and traditions, out of respect for its sacredness, more nuanced expressions should be used such as « night has fallen on Abomey », the capital of this four-century-old kingdom, formerly known as the Kingdom of Dahomey (old name of Benin). On December 17, King Sagbadjou Glélé died at an advanced age, but the accuracy of which remains uncertain – 86 years old, according to one of his brothers. The grandson of King Glélé, had ascended the throne in 2019 of the former Beninese kingdom of Abomey. His absence a few days ago during the traditional Houéfa divinatory ceremony – which allows Benin to cross the threshold of the New Year in peace – had worried the Beninese.

King Sagbadjou Glélé did not reign for long

According to local traditions, which continue in this ancient kingdom of Abomey, night has fallen on the kingdom since its disappearance. The day will not rise until the final funeral of the king takes place, that is to say that no public demonstration can be organized. However, the king has already been provisionally buried. King Sagbadjou Glélé did not reign for long, only two years. His predecessor, King Dédjalagni Agoli-Agbo had reigned 8 years before dying in 2019. King Sagbadjou Glélé was appointed on January 12, 2019, from among 11 pretenders to the throne, during a council of the elders of the family. “Royalty is in mourning. The king of Abomey, the sovereign Kêfa Sagbadjou Glèlè joined his ancestors on Friday, December 17, ”said Dako Kpogbémambou Vovoweyçonsin, high-dignitary of royalty in the department of Zou (south), his voice broken by emotion. Enthroned in January 2019 at the supposed age of 84 or 90, Dadah Sagbadjou Glèlè, a priest by training, succeeded the former king Dadah Dédjalagni Agoli-Agbo, who died in July 2018 after nearly thirty years of reign. The sovereign’s death comes a month after his last public appearance on the occasion of the return to Cotonou, the economic capital, of 26 royal treasures from Abomey looted by French colonial troops in the 19th century and exhibited until then at the Jacques Chirac Museum. du Quai Branly. After the restitution ceremony, endorsed by a law passed in December 2020 by the French Parliament, he expressed his deep emotion: “I cannot explain the joy that grips me. These objects were intended from their departure for a return. Sooner or later, they had to return so that the words spoken by our ancestors could be fulfilled ”. For the time being, no date has been communicated for the organization of public tributes, ceremonies and rituals relating to this death which traditionally precede the designation of a new king. Heir to a long line of monarchs, Dadah Sagbadjou Glèlè was the last direct grandson of King Glèlè, father of King Béhanzin who had been deported during the colonial struggle against France, putting an end to the kingdom’s political power. On November 17, 1892, King Béhanzin refused to submit to the French colonists who looted his palace, bringing back to France, in particular, a royal half-man and half-bird statue of King Ghézo, from the doors of King Glèlè’s palace ( 1880-1889) or the throne of King Béhanzin. The latter had reigned over the kingdom of Dahomey since the death of King Glélé in 1889, who himself had already ceded Cotonou to the French in 1868.

This kingdom, formed in the early 1600s in the south of what is now Benin, will then be integrated as a “colony of Dahomey” within French West Africa. After surrendering to French General Alfred Dodds, King Béhanzin ended his life in exile, in Martinique and Algeria before dying in 1906. Nowadays, the Beninese Constitution does not recognize political power in kings and other chiefs. traditional. But they retain a great influence on the life of the city. In August 2018, some 30,000 people, including many members of the government and deputies, came to worship in Abomey for a final tribute to Dadah Dédjalagni Agoli-Agbo. After his accession to the throne in 1989, this popular king had worked on the renovation of several palaces, some of which have become a tourist priority. Moreover, the historical works returned by France should eventually be exhibited in a new museum in Abomey, built in the former royal palace of the kings of Dahomey, inland.

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