Ouidah or Whydah town lies along the Gulf of Guinea. The town was the main port of the Kingdom of Abomey in the 18th and 19th centuries. Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish, British, and Americans all vied for a share of the slave and palm-oil trade made available through Ouidah by the efficiently organized and centralized kingdom.
Originally, Ouidah (once Gléwé) was a small village in the Xwéda kingdom that supported itself through agriculture, hunting and fishing in the coastal lagoons. Until Dahomey’s colonization by the French, the town of Ouidah remained in Dahomean control.
Ouidah's first encounter with Europeans occurred during the 16th century. Towards the end of the 17th century, European traders began purchasing slaves from the Xwéda kingdom in earnest, establishing factories and forts in the town of Gléwé (now Ouidah). The kingdom of Xwéda prospered greatly from this trade, until in 1727 the militaristic kingdom of Dahomey routed the kingdom of Xwéda, killing, capturing and dispersing its citizens, and usurping trade with the Europeans.
The slave trade was extremely active, and went on in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. During this period nearly 1,000,000 individuals were boarded onto ships from the beach at Ouidah and were transported across the Atlantic.
In 1818 Dahomey installed Francisco Félix de Souza, known as Chacha by the Dahomeans, to manage the slave trade on behalf of the kingdom of Dahomey. To this day, the descendants of de Souza hold a place of importance in Ouidan society.
In the late 1800s the town of Ouidah began to focus its export efforts on much less lucrative palm oil as European governments began to denounce the slave trade as brutal and unjustifiable. The kingdom of Dahomey (including Ouidah) was colonized by the French in 1902; by 1961, however, they gained independence.
Ouidah is a center of the Vodun religion in Benin. The big tourist attraction in Ouidah is the voodoo market. Other attractions include: the Portuguese Museum, the Temple of Pythons which houses the Sacred Pythons, the Christian Cathedral Notre Dame, the House of Brazil and the old districts of the city with their baroque facades.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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