For the Bahamas, there are many reasons, hundreds, probably a few thousand reasons why it’s negro descendants of liberated African slaves, should care about the history of King Gezo of Dahomey. For many generations of negro Bahamians, their torn and twisted historical roots, stretch through a time of unimaginable suffering, to the barbarian heart of Gezo, the powerful slave hunter King of Dahomey.
After the Transatlantic Slave Trade was abolished (taking slaves from the African coast) by the British in 1807, the Dutch, the Spanish and Portuguese continued to trade in slaves from the western coast of Africa.
Africans rescued from Spanish and Portuguese slaver ships, by the British navy or its privateers, then liberated on the shores of the Bahamas, were more than likely captured by King Gezo and the slave hunters of Benin.
Untold numbers of Bahamian families today are the descendants of the slaves caught by Gezo and his Amazon all female army, then sold to the Europeans for plantations in Cuba, Brazil and America. It was only by luck and mere chance that the slave ship their ancestors were on happened to be stopped on the high seas by the British Navy.
800 Slaves Beheaded in Gezo’s Memory
When King Gezo, the great slave King of the Dahomey, died in 1858, some 800 slaves were massacred in his memory.
800 captured Africans were contributed, as ceremonial tribute, to the deceased King, by other African slave dealers from the Kingdom of Whydah, in what is now southern Benin, West Africa.
The tradition of human slaughter, the “grand custom,” was one held in the highest esteem by King Gezo. It showed his great power over the life and death of others. Hundreds would be massacred at a time as tribute to some arbitrary event named by the King.
For two hundred years, this area of Benin, among others, were instrumental in providing enslaved Africans to the English, the Spain, the Portuguese and the Dutch.
Whydah (or written as Ouidah) was a city in southern Benin, in West Africa. The Kingdom of Whydah is known for its role in the 17th- to 19th-century Atlantic Slave Trade.
A HISTORY OF SAVAGERY AND BEHEADING
What is largely missing from the historical recorded on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is the history of blood and the brutality visited on weaker African tribes by stronger, slave catcher tribes.
In 1860, two years after the death of King Gezo, his son, King Badahung, the new King of Dahomey decided that in honour of his father’s memory, a “grand custom” must be made. A “grand custom” was the ceremonial sacrifice of hundreds of slaves. A pit was dug in order to collect enough blood to float a canoe. Some 2,000 persons were to be sacrificed, they were to be beheaded and thrown into the pit to bleed out.
THE HUMAN SACRIFICE IN DAHOMEY
In our impression of the 13th of July, we gave publicity to the awful fact that 2,000 persons were about to be sacrificed by Badahung, King of Dahomey, in honour of his late father.
At the recommendation of the Rev. C. S. Hassels, colonial chaplain of these settlements, we have reproduced the article on that subject, which appeared in our issue of the 13th, and, desirous to call the attention of the friends of Africa all over the world to the dreadful intelligence, we strike off 1,000 copies for circulation: –
“DAHOMEY – His Majesty Badahung, King of Dahomey, is about to make the “grand custom” in honour of the late King Gezo. Determined to surpass all former monarchs in the magnitude of the ceremonies to be performed to this occasion, Badahung has made the most extensive preparations for the celebration of the grand custom.
A great pit has been dug which is to contain human blood enough to float a canoe.
2000 persons will be sacrificed on this occasion. The expedition to Abeahouta is postponed; but the King has sent his army to make some excursions at the expense of some weaker tribes, and has succeeded in the capturing many unfortunate creatures. The young people among these prisoners will be sold into slavery, and the old persons will be killed at the great custom. Would to God this might meet the eyes of some of the great philanthropic Englishman who have some feeling for Africa.
Oh, for some man of eloquence and influence to point to the people of England the comparative uselessness of their extensive Squadron out here, and the enormous benefit that must result to this country, and ultimately to England herself, morally and materially, if she will extend her establishments on this coast. Take away two-thirds of your Squadron, and spend one half it’s cost in creating more stations on shore and greatly strengthening your old stations. ‘More forts, more magistrates, more courts of justice, more missionaries – more! more! more!’ “
In addition, we may observe also, that all the chief European and native merchants of Whydah, the great seaport town of Dahomey, have been ordered by King Badahung to repair to Abomey, the capital, to be present at the grand custom.”
(The Constitution Cork Advertiser Friday November 2, 1860)
KING GEZO IS DEAD!
“Accounts have arrived of the death of Gezo, the monster King of the Dahomey, who for 25 years ravaged the interior to supply the Spanish and Portuguese slave dealers in the Bight of Benin.
All the slave dealers of wider attended his funeral obsequies, and contributed 800 sleeves to be sacrificed to his memory! The new king proclaimed his policy to be that of his father, and is said to have set out with a large Army on the sleeve hunting expedition. The growing prosperity of this part of the coast is seriously endangered by recent events; the production of palm oil has much decreased; King Kosoko is making preparations to attack his former capital, legals, and at this critical juncture the Commodore is ordered by the Admiralty to withdraw the gunboat which has for sometime protected the place and it’s rising commerce.”
(The Bury and Norwich Post (Bury, Suffolk, England) Tuesday 22 March 1859)
DEATH OF A SLAVE KING
(The Baltimore Sun, Friday, 15 April 1859)
One of the most controversial aspects surrounding the hundreds of years of African negro slavery in the West, is the complicity of Africans themselves, in the horrendous trade.
While Europeans waited on the beach, the King’s slave hunters would go deep into the interior. They would raid villages. Sell the young and able, then massacre the old by beheading them.
It is not known how many African slaves, captured by King Gezo of Dahomey, and his army, ended up in the Bahamas. However it is a certain bet that thousands did. Gezo was the chief supplier of slaves in the West Indian/ South American region.
DEATH OF AN AFRICAN KING – The death of one of the scourges of the human race, Gezo, the slave hunting and slave trading King of the Dahomey, is announced.
This monster has caused as many deaths in the carrying out of his nefarious designs as some of his brethren, the white despots of Europe, in the gratification of their ambition.
When Gezo succeeded to his patrimonial throne, the adjacent country was inhabited by independent communities of the Egbas, and it was on them he perpetrated his earlier atrocities.
He attacked them, burnt their towns, carried off their choicest people, and when his own violence was unsuccessful, his intrigues introduced civil war, which completed their ruin.
“I have counted,” (writes the American missionary, Mr. Bower, perhaps the best authority), “the sights of eighteen desolated towns with a distance of sixty miles between Badagry and Abeokuta – the legitimate result of the slave trade.
The whole Yoruba country is full of depopulated towns, some of which were even larger than Abeokuta is at present. Of all the places visited by the Landers, only Ishukki, Isbobo, Ikishi, and a few villages remain. Ijenna was destroyed a few weeks after my arrival in this country. Other and still larger towns have lately fallen.”
At least his dismal reign is over and his death has been mourned and his funeral celebrated by the entire slave trade interest of the coast and the interior.
“His obsequies (says the Daily News) Were performed at Abomi; all the slave traders of Whydah attended and assisted at them; each carried thither his contribution of slaves to be sacrificed to his memory, and of merchandise to be presented to his successor.
It had been proposed to facilitate Gezo’s admission into the other world by the slaughter of 2,000 Africans, but, whether from the difficulty of procuring the number or from the greatly increased value to the Spaniards, the massacre was happily limited to 800.”
(The Bradford Observer, Bradford West Yorkshire, England, Thursday 24 March 1859)
Her Majesty Queen Victoria and King Gezo, the Slave Hunter King 1850
It was reported in the London papers of April 1850 that Queen Victoria had furnished His Majesty, King Gezo of Dahomey with 2,000 army caps for his all female slave hunting army. King Gezo of Dahomey had an army, some 8,000 strong, entirely made up from 8,000 Amazon built negro women. These women were his body guards and his chief slave catchers. They were forbidden to marry. King Gezo made many of them one of his untold number of wives.
Gezo’s Amazon female army did all of the beheading for the great massacres as well.
AMAZON ARMY OF SLAVE CATCHERS AND BUTCHERS
THE AFRICAN AMAZONS – Our best friend in Africa is a certain King of Dahomey, who loves us so well that he will do anything for us but put an end to the slave trade in his dominions, unless upon the terms of our buying of his royal interest in the traffic by a subsidy of £8,000 a year.
A smaller offer was actually made by His Majesty without success, we suppose in the days when Mr Stephen’s influence was all-powerful. The King of Dahomey goes hunting for two or three months every year. The hounds for his chase on army of more than 8,000 couples. We say couples advisedly, for nearly a half, or full 8000 are women!
Upon this female force the King places the greatest reliance, and they constitute His Majesty’s bodyguard. They are his best troops. They are trained to storm forts which they do with extraordinary bravery and skill. They are very fine women, ranging in height from 5 feet 8 to 5 feet nine and 10. Marriage is not permitted. It would have the proverbial effect of doing things by halves.
The King of Dahomey requested Her Majesty to give him some war caps for his slave-hunting Amazons; and to our astonishment we see it stated in evidence that the request was graciously granted, and Her Majesty sent the King 2,000 female war caps. There must surely be some mistake about this, as It would, if true, involve a preposterous inconsistency. Our cruisers seize and make prize of any vessel with the slightest evidence of equipment for the slave trade; and it is quite credible that Her Majesty can have been advised to furnish any article of equipment to the troops actually employed in hunting down and capturing the slaves in the interior?
One would be curious to know what the pattern of the cap could have been for the ladies enacting the part of the dogs of war.
We know something of the sort of caps with which ladies design enslaving hearts, but what is the mode, the fashion of the thing for enslaving black bodies?
How do they set their caps at men to make booty of their persons? What manner of cap does Bellona don when she sets about the foulest conquest and enthrals in the cruellest iron fetters?
At Timbuctoo the body guard wear cast-off lawyer’s wigs; are the King of Dahomey’s ladies’ war-caps of any such predatory symbol?
Perhaps, after all, the caps, were percussion caps, much more harmless than many of the pink-ribboned genus. Or perhaps, and most probably, there were no caps at all presented, as alleged. We hope and believe it will so turn out. The statement, however, whether true or false, will be found in the evidence of Captain Winniett, R. N., ex-Governor of Cape Coast Castle, in the last blue book evidence on the African slave trade, taken by the committee of the House of Lords.
(The Times, London, England, Monday 08 April 1850)
1877 – A New Treaty With The King of Dahomey
A Provision That No British Subject Is Compelled To Watch The Dahomey Custom of Human Sacrifice
By 1877, Queen Victoria had succeeded in signing a new treaty with the Dahomey which replaced the one she had signed with the slave-hunter King Gezo. Despite an 1852 provision to abolish the slave trade in Dahomey, slave hunting continued well after Gezo and his son Badahung.
One important provision in the treaty of 1877 was that no British subject was compelled to watch any more public human sacrifices!