Thursday, April 23, 2015

Around the World with Art: Benin

The Wikipedia has a whole page on the Art of Benin, but it's not clear to me that the ancient Kingdom of Benin, which this art is from, is geographically connected to the modern country of Benin.

So instead I'm doing that thing where I assert that clothing is also art, mostly because I found some interesting historical pictures:

These ladies, referred to by Westerners as the Dahomey Amazons, were actually called the Mino, "Our Mothers," in the local language. (Dahomey is the name of the region that became modern Benin.)

The Mino was founded in the mid to late 1600s by King Houegbadja of Dahomey to hunt elephants; by the 1800s, they had become regular military units.

Lest the whole business sound too exciting, remember that these folks did not work under modern humanitarian standards. Women were often forced into the regiments, either as prisoners of war or by disgruntled husbands/family members (we would more conventionally call this "slavery,") and could be as young as 8 years old (the forced recruitment of child soldiers is now something humanitarian organizations try to stop. Not to mention their habit of decapitating and dismembering their opponents, ISIS-style.

And an obituary for the king of Dahomey:
"The April 20, 1859 edition of the Macon Messenger [1] carried a short obituary notice for King Gezo stating, " The Richmond Dispatch says: His majesty, the King of Dahomey, the great negro seller of Africa, has departed this life. He was in the habit of ransacking all the neighboring African kingdoms, for the purpose of making captives, whom he sold to the slavers. At his funeral obsequies, his loving subjects manifested their sorrow by sacrificing eight hundred negroes to his memory. He is succeeded by his son, King Gezo II."
1. Marriages and Obituaries From the Macon Messenger; Willard R. Rocker 1988

Oh, look--I just found the flag of the old Kingdom/Empire of Benin (again, probably not physically connected to modern Benin):

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