Adandozan

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Adandozan was a King of Dahomey (now Benin), technically the ninth, though he is not counted as one of the twelve kings. His name has largely been erased from the history of Abomey (the capital of Dahomey), and to this day is generally not spoken out loud in the city. He became king when, in 1797, the previous King of Dahomey, Agonglo, died, leaving the throne to his eldest son.[1]

Adandozan's symbols were a baboon with a swollen stomach, full mouth, and ear of corn in hand (an unflattering reference to his enemy, the King of Oyo), and a large parasol ('the king overshadows his enemies'). These symbols are not included in Abomey appliques, for the same reasons that Adandozan is not included in Abomey's history.

The traditional stories about Adandozan's rule (which are retold, with some changing of names, in Bruce Chatwin's novel The Viceroy of Ouidah) portray him as extremely cruel: he is said to have raised hyenas to which he would throw live subjects for amusement; he is pictured slitting a pregnant woman's abdomen open on a bet to see whether he could predict the sex of the fetus.

Adandozan is portrayed as an incompetent warrior and general, and as a betrayer of the royal family: he is said to have sold his brother's, Gakpe (also known as Ghezo), mother into slavery. Gakpe, who had previously feigned idiocy to avoid attracting his brother's attention, fled into exile near Kana. Adandozan is portrayed as hopelessly mad, struggling foolishly with the European powers. He refused to pay Francisco Felix de Sousa, a Brazilian merchant and trader who had become a major middle-man in the Ouidah slave market, for services rendered, imprisoned and tortured de Souza, and then attempted to have his own ministers sell the slaves directly.

In the traditional story, Gakpe, secretly coming back from exile, helped de Souza escape. In return, de Souza helped Gakpe marshall a military force and take the throne with the assistance of the terrified council of ministers. Gakpe then put Adandozan in prison.

This traditional portrayal may be wrong: like Richard II of England in the Wars of the Roses, Adandozan may have been the object of a propagandistic rewriting of history after he lost the throne, turned into a monster by his successor as a means of excusing the coup d'état and legitimizing the new regime. All stories agree that Adandozan tried to force more favorable terms of trade with the Europeans involved in the export of slaves, and seriously undermined the power of the extended royal family and Vodun cult practitioners at court through administrative reforms.

It may be that these policies themselves provoked Adandozan's powerful opponents to support a coup against him. In order to justify the coup, Gakpe may then have been obliged to have his griots (oral historians) tell of the monstrous and mad Adandozan.

Although tradition has not been kind to Adandozan, he has helped to salvage his own reputation through a substantial number of letters that he, or secretaries in his employ, wrote to various outsiders, especially the kings and other officials of Portugal who fled to Brazil following the conquest of Portugal by Napoleon. In these letters, Adandozan outlines a substantial military campaigns, which he presents as victories, as well as showing his negotiations with Europeans. Some of these letters were published in Pierre Verger in the 1960s.[2] A large cache, found in the Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro in Rio de Janeiro, remains unpublished.

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