Ghezo

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Ghezo was the ninth King of Dahomey (now Benin), considered one of the greatest of the twelve historical kings. He ruled from 1818 to 1858. His name before ascending to the throne was Gakpe.

Ghezo's symbols are two birds on a tree, a buffalo, and a clay jar sieve with holes in it held by two hands, a symbol of unity. Ghezo is said to have used the sieve as a metaphor for the kind of unity needed for the country to defeat its enemies and overcome its problems; i.e., it takes everyone's hand to block the sieve's holes and hold water. The pierced clay jar upheld by multiple hands has become a national symbol in Benin --a large portrayal of it is the backdrop of the speaker's podium in Benin's National Assembly.

Ghezo ascended the throne after he overthrew his brother, Adandozan, in a coup d'état. The traditional stories state that Adandozan was a cruel ruler, but these may have been invented by Ghezo's historians to justify the coup.

Throughout his reign, Ghezo waged a military campaign every year during the dry season. His prisoners-of-war were sold into slavery, thus fattening the royal treasury, increasing the annual budget, and making war a very efficient means of raising revenues.

Because of his strengthened armies and budget, Ghezo stopped the Oyo tribute once and for all. He formalized his army, gave his 4,000 Dahomey Amazon female warriors uniforms, required soldiers to drill with guns and sabres regularly, and was able to repulse Oyo's attack when it came.

Ghezo was also seen as an extremely shrewd administrator. Because of his slave revenues, he could afford to lower taxes, thus stimulating the agricultural and mercantile economy: agriculture expanded, as did trade in a variety of goods with France. He instituted new judicial procedures, and was considered to be a just judge of his subjects. He was much loved, and his sudden death in a battle against the Yorubas was considered a tragedy.

Ghezo was succeeded by Glele.

Popular culture

Ghezo is featured in the novel Flash for Freedom! by George MacDonald Fraser.

See also

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