Historical Personalities & Issues

Compiled & Edited by Phillip True, Jr.

Chapter Twenty

BEHANZIN HOSSU BOWELLE "THE KING SHARK" (1841-1906)

Behanzin Bowelle "The King Shark", was the most powerful of the West African Kings in the last years of the 19th Century. Behanzin was the absolute master of his kingdom. A nod of his head meant life or death for his subjects. Not many were permitted to see him do even the most common things.

While marching, if he wanted a drink of water, a screen needed to be placed over his face until he finished drinking. When the water was passed to him, the soldiers would throw themselves on the ground and say "A-h-h-h", as though they were also drinking. The saliva from Behanzin's mouth was not allowed to touch the ground. Behanzin's army, with rifles supplied by the Germans, were getting too strong for neighboring French colonies. In 1890, Behanzin had defeated a French expedition and made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Gli-Gli in 1868 null and void, from this war began.

In 1894, Behanzin was defeated by Colonel A.A. Dodds, a Senegalese mulatto, who was sent to fight against him with powerful French armed forces. Behanzin was exiled to Martinique. Behanzin died in 1906 in Algeria. In 1928, his son had his body moved to Dahomey.


Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter
John Henrik Clarke Virtual Museum | FRONTal View
NBUF Homepage | DuBois Learning Center Homepage