Dahomey, Republic of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dahomey, Republic of


(République du Dahomey), a state in West Africa. Dahomey’s southern border is formed by the Gulf of Guinea, and the country is bounded by Niger in the north, Upper Volta in the northwest, Togo in the west, and Nigeria in the east. Area, 112,600 sq km; population, 2.6 million (1969); capital, Porto-Novo. Administratively, Dahomey is divided (as of 1970) into six departments, which in turn are divided into subprefectures and districts.

Constitution and government. Dahomey is a republic. Its Constitution of 1968 was revoked in December 1969. The Presidential Council, created in April 1970, approved in May of that year a charter defining the basic organization of the government of Dahomey and serving as the basic law until a new constitution is ratified. According to the charter, the three-man Presidential Council is the highest organ of state power. The council has both legislative and executive power. It appoints and replaces ministers, high officials, members of the Supreme Court, and ambassadors, and it concludes and ratifies international treaties and agreements. The Presidential Council is headed by a chairman, who is the head of state and government. Each of the members of the Presidential Council holds the post of chairman for two years in the sequence established by the charter. The chairman of the Presidential Council is also commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Supreme Defense Council.

The government of Dahomey—the Council of Ministers—is appointed by the Presidential Council, and the ministers are directly responsible to the chairman of the Presidential Council. In 1971 the National Consultative Assembly was created, consisting of three sections, for economic affairs, social affairs, and general policy. Since 1972 the Presidential Council has been dissolved and power vested in a military government.

The departments and districts are headed by government-appointed officials—prefects and subprefects. There are no elected organs of self-government. The charter envisages the creation of advisory bodies on the level of departments and of town and village districts.

The court system includes the Supreme Court, the court of highest appeal; the Court of Appeals; and courts of original jurisdiction.


Natural features. A large part of Dahomey consists of a plateau (with an elevation of up to 500 m) made up of Precam-brian crystalline rock covered in the north by Miocene and Pliocene sandstones. The highest elevation is 635 m, in the Atakora Mountains in the northwest. In the south is a coastal lowland composed of marine Eocene deposits. The shoreline is relatively straight. Here the ocean has created a coastal bar that has gradually closed up all the bays of the former coast and formed lagoons. Thus, there are two coasts—a coastal bar dropping steeply into the ocean and, behind it, a continental coast dissected by bays.

The climate in the lowland is equatorial, with two rainy seasons. The temperatures change little during the year. Precipitation during the year ranges from 800 to 1,300 mm (in the east). In the north, the climate is equatorial-monsoonal. In January the average temperature is around 24° C and in July around 30° C. During the year the precipitation ranges from 1,000 mm to 1,500–2,000 mm.

The main river is the Ouémé, which flows into the Gulf of Guinea and is navigable for 200 km. In the soil cover red laterites predominate, and in the south there are reddish-yellow lateritic (predominantly ferrallitic) soils. The vegetation is mainly tall-grass savanna, and on the coast there are humid tropical evergreen forests, covering about one-fifth of Dahomey. In the savanna are numerous antelopes and predators, including leopards and hyenas.

Population. The southern and central parts of the country are inhabited by peoples speaking languages of the Guinean group. These are the Dahomey (the Fon tribes form their nucleus), Yoruba, Adja, Tofini. and others. In total they number over 1.5 million (1967 estimate). In the north live peoples speaking languages of the Gur group, including the Somba, Berba, Bilapila (330.000), and Barba (200,000). In the semidesert regions not occupied by farming peoples live the cattle-raising Fulbe (130.000). The towns are also inhabited by Europeans (chiefly French), Syrians, Lebanese, and Hausa. The official language is French. Some 75 percent of the population maintains the old traditional beliefs, over 13 percent are Christians, and about 12 percent are Muslims. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

From 1963 to 1969 the population increased at an annual rate of 2.9 percent. The economically active population exceeds 1 million (1969), of whom 55 percent are engaged in agriculture and fishing, 9 percent in industry, and 36 percent in trade and services. There are about 35,000 hired laborers, including 19,000 in the state sector. In 1969 about 16 percent of the population lived in cities and towns. The coastal regions are the most densely populated (over 100 per sq km); the northern regions are the least densely populated (one per several kilometers). The most important towns are Cotonou (120,000 inhabitants in 1969), Porto-Novo (85,000 in 1968), and Abomey.

Historical survey. Traces of human life have been discovered in Dahomey dating from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Ruins of dwellings, whetstones, hammers, and flint arrowheads have been found, testifying to the comparatively high level of development of the material culture of the ancient inhabitants of Dahomey. Excavations have also revealed that iron was smelted in Dahomey in the distant past.

In the 15th century Portuguese slavers arrived at the coast of modern Dahomey. After them, in the 17th century, came Dutch, French, and English slavers and merchants. The coast of Dahomey and adjacent areas were turned into a major slave-trading region in Africa, from which the coast derived its name of Slave Coast. The earliest references to the state of Dahomey go back to the 17th century. In the first half of the 19th century this state had conquered Adjatché (Porto-Novo), Ardra (Allada), and other smaller states and had extended its possessions from the sea to the boundaries of the Ashanti and Yoruba states. In the social structure of Dahomey, remnants of patriarchal relationships were closely intertwined with feudal and slave-owning elements. The nation was divided into six provinces, governed by representatives of local notables. These officials were appointed by the ruler of the state, who had absolute power.

In February 1890 the French colonialists began a war against Dahomey. The peoples of Dahomey put up a stubborn resistance to the invaders. Only in November 1892 were the French able to capture the capital of Dahomey, Abomey. The ruler of Dahomey, Béhanzin, retreated north with the remnants of his army, where he continued the struggle against the invaders. In January 1894 he was betrayed by local notables to the French. Dahomey was made a colony under the rule of a French governor, and in 1904 it became part of French West Africa. France established a regime of cruel colonial oppression. Dahomey became a country with a palm-oil monoculture. The country was turned over to the complete control of colonial trading companies, which plundered the population by purchasing raw materials at extremely low prices and selling industrial goods at prices significantly above their value. For the benefit of the colonial companies the authorities imposed a high tax on the Africans and introduced a system of forced labor, under which Africans were contracted to work on the building of railways and highways and in the mining and lumbering industries.

The peoples of Dahomey did not accept foreign enslavement. In 1915 a number of regions of Dahomey were engulfed in an armed insurrection that was cruelly suppressed by the colonialists. After World War I (1914–18) there arose the Young Dahomey Movement, which was headed by representatives of the progressive local intelligentsia, such as the teacher Hunkarin. In 1923 there were mass anti-imperialist uprisings.

World War II (1939–45) brought about substantial changes in the economy and in the balance of social forces in the country. The breaking of economic ties with France during the war years contributed to some extent to the development of industrial enterprises, such as soap and garment factories. The number of workers grew, and strikes became more frequent. The political activity of the national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia intensified. The liberation movement in the country acquired an organized character, headed by the first African political parties and trade unions that had been established in the country. Under the pressure of the growing liberation movement supported by the Pan-African struggle for freedom and independence, the French ruling circles were forced in 1957 to form the first governmental council in which Africans participated. In 1958, after the ratification of the new French constitution by a majority of the participants in the referendum conducted in Dahomey on September 28, the French were forced to agree to the proclamation of an autonomous republic within the French Community. On July 11, 1960, the French were obliged to sign an agreement giving Dahomey independence. On Aug. 1, 1960, Dahomey was proclaimed an independent republic and withdrew from the French Community, and on September 20 of that year Dahomey was admitted to the United Nations.

In December 1960, Dahomey held presidential and parliamentary elections. The first head of government of independent Dahomey, H. Maga, was elected president. In accordance with the constitution, Maga retained the post of head of government. In elections for the National Assembly, the Dahomey Unity Party, which had been founded by Maga in November 1960, was victorious. On Apr. 24, 1961, Maga’s government signed agreements on cooperation and a military treaty with France, by which the latter retained its important position in the economy and political life of the country.

The Maga government encountered great difficulties arising from economic backwardness, tribal frictions, and religious differences, all of which exacerbated relations between the country’s three regions—the north (the Barba and Somba peoples), the Abomey region (the Fon), and the Porto-Novo region (the Yoruba). In 1961 the Maga government established a single-party system. A law was enacted restricting the activities of the trade unions and freedom of the press and allowing the police without judicial warrant to subject to repression “persons whose actions are dangerous to order.” However, the government was unable to reduce the political and ethnic contradictions.

In October 1963 the toiling masses, under the leadership of the trade unions, declared their opposition to the government. Students and other circles of the intelligentsia took an active part in these actions. The general strike of October 26–28. organized by the trade unions, led to the fall of the government. Power temporarily passed to the chief of staff of the Dahomey Army, Colonel C. Soglo. At the beginning of January 1964 a new constitution was approved, providing for the division of power between a president, the head of state, and a vice-president, the head of government. The workers’ right to strike was restored, and the calling in of foreign troops to settle domestic conflicts was prohibited. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on January 19. S. M. Apithy was elected president and J. Ahomadegbé vice-president. Both were candidates of the Dahomey Democratic Party founded in December 1963, which had advocated strengthening national and African unity, revitalizing the economy and raising the people’s living standard, international cooperation, and strengthening peace. The Dahomey Unity Party was dissolved by the new government. Soon thereafter, the ruling circles of Dahomey, endeavoring to weaken the opposition movement, gradually began to eliminate the democratic freedoms won at the end of 1963. Differences between Apithy and Ahomadegbé grew. Under these circumstances the army, with the support of the trade unions and students, ousted both Apithy and Ahomadegbe in November 1965. After the coup the political situation in the country remained extremely unstable, as revealed by the repeated changes of government. From December 1965 through December 1967 the government of General Soglo was in power, and after his removal the government was headed by Lieutenent Colonel Alley, who was proclaimed head of state.

In March 1968 a new constitution was adopted, providing for the restoration of a presidential regime. All political associations were disbanded. In June 1968 the military circles put forward Dr. E. Zinsou as president, who received a majority of the votes in a referendum held on July 28, 1968. The Zinsou government continued the political course of its predecessors aimed at suppressing all opposition forces. In May 1969, after the discovery of a conspiracy against the government and of an attempt to hold a general strike, a number of the trade-union leaders were arrested and newspapers opposed to the government were closed down. On Dec. 10, 1969, President Zinsou was removed from his post by a group of military men headed by the chief of the general staff, Lieutenant Colonel Kouandete, who became a member of the military directorate formed on December 18. The three-man directorate (its chairman was Lieutenant Colonel P. E. de Souza) concentrated all power in its hands. The 1968 Constitution was abrogated. In May 1970 the directorate transferred its power to a civilian administration—the Presidential Council consisting of H. Maga. J. Ahomadegbe, and S. M. Apithy. H. Maga became chairman of the Presidential Council, head of government, and head of state. In May 1972, he was replaced by J. Ahomadegbé.

The actions of the Presidential Council brought about growing discontent among various sections of the population. Strikes broke out across the entire country; the strikers protested against rising consumer prices and demanded higher wages. On Oct. 26. 1972. a group of army officers led by Deputy Chief of Staff Major M. Kéré-kou carried out a bloodless coup d’etat. The Presidential Council and the government were dissolved. State power passed to a military-revolutionary government headed by M. Kérékou, who became president of Dahomey.

In foreign policy, the Dahomey governments have followed the Western powers, above all France. In 1961, Dahomey joined the Afro-Malagasy Union (since 1965 called the Afro-Malagasy Common Organization and since 1970, the Afro-Malagasy and Mauritius Common Organization). Along with Upper Volta, the Ivory Coast, Niger, and Togo. Dahomey is a member of a regional association, the Council of the Entente, founded in 1959. The military-revolutionary government proclaimed the principle of nonalignment to be the basis of its foreign policy. It called for the development of relations with all countries irrespective of their political systems and for the strengthening of solidarity with all national-liberation movements in their struggle against imperialism, neocolonialism, and racism.

In 1962, Dahomey established diplomatic relations with the USSR and a number of other socialist countries. In 1963. Soviet-Dahomey agreements for cultural and scientific cooperation and for trade were concluded. In 1964, a Soviet-Dahomey agreement on economic and technical cooperation was signed.


Political parties, trade unions, and other public organizations. Political parties are banned in Dahomey. For many years the trade-union and youth movements in the country were highly fragmented (a total of 90 autonomous trade unions and trade-union centers and 300 different youth organizations). The military-revolutionary government has been taking steps to create uniform trade-union, youth, and women’s organizations throughout the country.

Economic geography. Dahomey is an economically backward agrarian country, in national income (about $61 per capita in 1969) occupying one of the last places among the independent African states. Since the proclamation of independence in 1960, measures have been taken to improve the nation’s economy. The most important industrial sector— the production of palm oil—came under state control, but the finished product was sold by a private French firm. In agriculture, production cooperatives were organized, specializing in raising oil palm and peanuts and in teak lumbering. Experimental demonstration farms are being established and so-called farming blocks. In 1962 a state office for purchasing agricultural products was established (prior to this all purchasing was done by foreign firms and middlemen) that was to compete freely with foreign export firms. However, almost all the most important economic sectors are in the hands of foreign, chiefly French, companies, such as the Compagnie Franchise de 1’Afrique Occidentale and the Société Commerciale de I’Ouest Africain. French ruling circles provide Dahomey with financial and technical aid in return for political and economic obligations.

Agriculture plays the leading role in the economy (over 50 percent of the gross national product in 1969). Communal landowning has survived; under the influence of the rapid growth of market farming, however, communes have begun to disintegrate, with the better areas being taken over by tribal notables. Long-term leasing of land is common (the tenants are immigrant peasants), and primitive hoe farming predominates. In 1963 tilled land constituted 13.7 percent of the area (including 8.4 percent fallow land), meadows and pastures made up 3.9 percent, and other lands 82.4 percent.

The most important branch of the agrarian economy is crop raising, which has specialized in the production of export crops raised basically on the farms of Africans. The leading export crop is the oil palm. This crop is planted extensively in the south (from the coast to Abomey-Zag-nanado). There are about 30 million trees, occupying an area of over 400,000 ha. The annual crop of palm-nut kernels is over 50,000 tons. Between 1962 and 1965 a national private-state company for agricultural development established 200 palm plantations on newly developed lands. In 1972 large palm plantations (with a total area of 4,000 ha) were created in the Mono River Valley. Coconut palms are raised along the narrow coastal strip on plantations belonging to European capitalists, and copra and coconuts are exported. Peanuts are grown extensively (70,000 ha and a harvest of 25.000 tons in 1970), both for domestic consumption and export. Some 91 percent of the peanut crop comes from the southern regions of the country. Here also cotton is grown, both for sale on the domestic market and for export. The main food crops, with 1969 harvests, are manioc (180,000 ha; 1.14 million tons) and corn (430,000 ha; 260,000 tons) in the south and sweet potatoes and yams (72,000 ha; 580,000 tons), millet, and sorghum in the central and northern regions. Since the end of the 1960’s coffee trees have been raised in the south.

In 1969–70 there were 570,000 head of cattle (essentially poor producers), 570,000 head of sheep, 600,000 goats, and 360,000 pigs; there were 1.7 million chickens. For the most part livestock is driven to outlying pastures. In the tropical portion of Dahomey the herd is kept on grazing fodder throughout the year. Some 30 percent of the total number of cattle is concentrated in the north, chiefly on the African farms.

The coastal waters, lagoons, and rivers abound in fish. The catch in 1968 was 22,600 tons.

In the forests, rich in valuable tropical varieties of trees (chiefly mahogany), over 100,000 cu m of wood are procured, to be used in the country. Dahomey’s industry is poorly developed. It contributes about 10 percent of the gross national product (1969). The processing industry is represented for the most part by enterprises involved in the primary processing of agricultural raw materials. Palm oil is produced at plants in Pobe, Cotonou, and elsewhere, for use both in consumption and in producing soap at plants near Porto-Novo and Cotonou (each with a capacity of 1,000 tons). There are plants for processing raw cotton in Bohicon, Savalou, Ndali, and Parakou. Textile mills are found in Bohicon (sack manufacturing) and Cotonou. There are enterprises processing the products of the coconut palm and the karite, or shea tree. In the town of Kandi there is a kapok-ginning plant. Two sawmills and several furniture factories are located in Cotonou. In 1967 lumber production amounted to 10,000 cu m. In Cotonou there are small enterprises producing liquid oxygen, beer, and nonalcoholic beverages. Other plants include a Citroen assembly plant (about 1.200 motor vehicles a year), a Peugeot bicycle and motorcycle plant, and a cement plant. Handicraft production includes weaving, textile dyeing, smithing, pottery making, and woodcarving.

The mining industry is very poorly developed. In the region of Natitingou gold is mined on a small scale. American companies have been prospecting for offshore petroleum deposits, for iron ore (near Kandi), and for chromites. There are four small thermal power plants in Cotonou, Porto-Novo. Bohicon, and Parakou, whose capacity was about 10,000 kW in 1968 and which produced 28.4 million kW-hr of electric power in 1970.

Dahomey has 600 km of railroads, 6,200 km of motor vehicle roads, and 790 km of asphalt roads (1968). Railroads (meter gauge) link Cotonou with Parakou (438 km), Paho with Segborue (on Lake Ahémé; 34 km), and Cotonou with Pobé (107 km). In 1969 there were 17,100 motor vehicles, including 6,500 trucks. In northern Dahomey (north of Parakou) freight is transported primarily by motor vehicles. In Cotonou there is an international airport and a seaport with a cargo turnover of about 550,000 tons (1969). The seaport handles all the foreign trade of Dahomey and Niger.

Dahomey has an unfavorable balance of trade. Agricultural products make up about 79 percent of the value of exports (1968), including oil palm products, which represent 53 percent of all exports. The chief imports are cotton textiles (15.6 percent) and other consumer goods, as well as industrial equipment. The principal trading partner is France, whose share of both exports and imports was 54.8 percent of each in 1965 and 36.5 percent of exports and 41.5 percent of imports in 1968. The United States (which in 1968 accounted for 21.6 percent of exports and 3.8 percent of imports) and the German Federal Republic are other important trading partners. The monetary unit is the CFA franc, which equals 0.02 French francs.


Armed forces. The armed forces of Dahomey are headed by the chairman of the Presidential Council. In 1970 about 3,000 men were under arms. The basis of the armed forces is the infantry of about 1,700 men, forming three battalions and one paratroop subunit. The air force of about 100 men consists of one squadron of six aircraft. The armed forces also include the police. The army is recruited on the basis of the law governing universal military obligation (1963) and also enlists volunteers. The induction age is 18. and the length of active military service is 12 months.

Health and social welfare. According to incomplete data, the birth rate in 1965 was 54 per 1,000 and death rate was 26. The rate of infant mortality was 109.6 per 1,000 live births. The average life expectancy is 37.3 years. Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate in the morbidity rate. Smallpox is recorded each year. Malaria, gastrointestinal infections and infestations, frambesia, and tuberculosis are encountered everywhere. In the southern medical geographic area, occupied by humid high-grass savannas, trypanosomiasis, filariasis, schistosomiasis, and leprosy are endemic. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, cerebrospinal meningitis, and trachoma are found in the northern region, with its seasonally damp forests, open woodlands, and brush.

Medical services are provided by hospitals and by treatment centers and mobile units, whose task is to combat malaria and other infectious diseases. Private physicians in the cities provide aid outside hospitals.

In 1969, Dahomey had three general hospitals with 733 beds, six leper hospitals, 30 medical centers with 908 beds, and 46 maternity homes with 1,200 beds. For inpatient services there were 1.3 beds per 1,000 inhabitants. There were also 11 outpatient clinics and 154 dispensaries. In 1969 there were 81 physicians (one physician per 32,000 inhabitants), six dentists, 19 pharmacists, and about 1,100 auxiliary medical personnel. In rural localities one physician may serve as many as 45.000 inhabitants. There is one school for the training of nurses. Physicians are trained abroad. In 1970 expenditures for public health accounted for 11.9 percent of the national budget.


VETERINARY SERVICES. Animal diseases that are widespread in Dahomey include cattle trypanosomiasis (809 outbreaks in 1969; the carrier is the tsetse fly), cattle pleuro-pneumonia (144 outbreaks in 1959–69), cattle plague (28 outbreaks in 1959–67), Newcastle disease (631 outbreaks in 1959–69), and animal helminthiasis. All these diseases greatly reduce animal productivity. Also recorded are African swine fever, rabies, anthrax (concentrated along the cattle trails), epizootic ungulate lymphangitis, and pasteu-rellosis. A veterinary service is being organized; there are quarantine stations in the north of the country and along the cattle trails.

Education. At the time Dahomey became independent (1960), only 20 percent of the children of school age were receiving a primary education. There were no institutions of higher learning. After national independence was proclaimed public education began to develop rapidly. Allocations for education in 1970 reached 19 percent of the national budget. However, in rural localities, the availability of school education still remains limited. Education is under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education. Institutions of learning are maintained both by the state and by private organizations (Catholic and Protestant missions). According to the 1964 law, the private schools are under state control and are obliged to operate according to the programs of the state schools.

The system of public education includes six-year primary schools, incomplete secondary schools (general education schools providing four years of instruction), and complete secondary schools (lycées providing seven years of instruction). Admission to an institution of higher learning is granted only upon completion of the lycée. After passing examinations, graduates of lycées receive baccalaureates. In the 1968–69 academic year there were 146,200 students enrolled in primary schools and 14,300 in the secondary schools.

After graduation from primary schools, vocational education is given in the seven-year technical lycée, in the four-year technical educational school, and in the three-year agricultural training centers, which train technical personnel in agriculture. In the 1968–69 academic year there were 1,190 persons receiving vocational training. In rural localities the so-called cooperative schools (five years of instruction) are being set up to provide general educational and agricultural training.

Upon completion of general education schools, primary school teachers are trained by pedagogical schools (four years) or by one-year pedagogical courses. The one-year course allows a person to teach the first four classes of a primary school. In the 1967–68 academic year 322 persons were receiving training in pedagogical institutions.

The first institution of higher learning in Dahomey, the Legal Institute in Porto-Novo, was opened in 1962. In the 1967–68 academic year, 115 students were enrolled at the institute. At the Benin Institute (Dahomey-Togo) there were 70 students from Dahomey in 1968–69. About 600 students from Dahomey were being trained abroad.

In Porto-Novo there is also the National Library (7.500 volumes). Dahomey’s largest museum is the Historical Museum at Abomey. the capital of the ancient Dahomey state.


Press and radio. There is a daily government newspaper, the Daho-Express, published since 1969, with a circulation of 10.000–12,000 (1970) and a daily bulletin of the press agency, Le Bulletin Quotidien de l’Agence Dahoméenne de Presse, published since 1961, with a circulation of more than 2,000 (1969). Once every two weeks the government organ Journal Officiel de la République du Dahomey appears. The Catholic monthly newspaper La Croix du Dahomey has been published since 1946 and has a circulation of 3.000 (1970). There is also an information agency, the Dahomey Press Agency.

The state radio station in Cotonou broadcasts in French and in local languages.

Literature. The African nationalities inhabiting Dahomey have created a rich and diverse folklore. The oral folk art of the Fon has received the most study. Aside from tales, sayings, and proverbs, an important place is occupied by legends reflecting the history of the state of Dahomey since the second half of the 17th century. Historical events can be traced from the middle of the 19th century in the folklore of the peoples from the north of Dahomey. The languages of the peoples of Dahomey are unwritten, and a modern literature has been created that uses French. This literature came into being in the 20th century, represented first in journalism and in historical research. Dahomey’s press originated in the 1930’s, and at various times before I960 as many as 50 periodicals were published simultaneously. The writer P. Hazoumé (born 1890) is the author of works dealing with ancient animistic rites, as well as of the first historical novel Doguicimi (1937), which describes events in Dahomey in the first half of the 19th century. M. Quenum has written In the Country of the Fon (2nd ed., 1938), Three African Legends, and other works. Later came the works of historians and literary critics such as C. Agbo (The History of the Ouidah, 1959), and A. Akindélé and C. Aguessy (Contribution to the Study of the Ancient Kingdom of Porto-Novo, 1953).

During the years of the rise of the national liberation movement, the most outstanding literary works of Dahomey included the political and sharply anticolonial book by A. Tevoedjre (born 1929). Africa in Revolt (1958) the novel The Eternal Trap (1960) by O. Bhêly-Quenum. and the verses of the well-known journalist and gifted poet P. Joachim, author of the collection The Negro Speaks (1954). Since the proclamation of independence, poetry has been the leading genre. Joachim continues to be published, and among young poets of note are R. Hazoume (author of the collection of verses African Flowers, 1967) and R. Dogbeh. Dogbeh’s verses, including the collections Waters of the Mono (1963) and Shores of the Dead (1964), are marked by a sense of civic duty, patriotism, and a strong antimilitary feeling. The most outstanding contribution to drama has been J. Pliya’s historical drama Kondo the Shark (1967), devoted to the struggle of the Dahomey ruler Behanzin against the French colonialists.


Folk art. The folk art of Dahomey has a great tradition. Various artistic crafts have been developing over a long period of time—before the 20th century individual families specialized in particular types of art. Using wax models, bronze and silver figures of people and animals are cast, unusual in their proportions (elongated emaciated figures with very thin, long extremities). Entire groups are also cast, such as hunting, domestic, and court scenes, unified by a single rhythmic movement that is conveyed with great verisimilitude. Striking stylized embroidery and applique work adorns banners, robes, umbrellas, and headwear. Artistic wood and ivory carving is widely known, as well as the decoration of vessels made from calabash gourds. Complex mul-tifigured carved compositions decorate the wooden scepters of rulers, religious vessels, and seats. These carved works, with their foreshortened proportions and massive, carefully sculpted heads, differ greatly in style from the bronze artifacts. Ceramic dishes with figure-shaped handles and lids are also made. Polychrome clay reliefs depicting historical events and lions (the symbols of royal power) decorate the entrances to the surviving clay temples and palaces of the rulers. The traditional houses are rectangular or circular frame huts plastered with clay and having four-sloped or conical roofs.

Theater. The present-day theatrical art of Dahomey is based upon religious rites and rituals (such as magical incantations and funeral chants), folk dances, acrobatic performances, and the pantomimes and dances performed in the palaces of the feudal lords. Folk theatrical works from Dahomey have been performed in the Paris Theater of the Nations (1962). at the World Festival of Negro African Art in Dakar (1966), and at the Pan-African Festival of Culture in Algiers (1969).

In 1933 a significant event occurred in the development of the West African amateur theater: the staging by Dahomeyans studying in Dakar (Senegal) of Sokamé, a drama on the subject of a national legend. In 1937 the play was performed at the World Colonial Exhibition in Paris, and it was presented in Dahomey in the I950’s and I960’s.

The development of national drama is associated with the plays of J. Pliya. including Kondo the Shark, dealing with the struggle against the French invaders at the end of the 19th century and the satirical comedy A Personal Secretary. A theatrical group from Ekpe (near Cotonou) in 1965–68 toured neighboring countries with a production of Danhomé, the historical play by M. Mêlé. In 1966 an ensemble of artists from Dahomey performed in the USSR dances and the short musical plays Wedding and Resurrection.

N. I. L’vov


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[7–1489–5; updated]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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