King of Benin to Visit UMass Boston

Ben Whelan

It is not entirely uncommon for foreign officials to visit UMass Boston, but this week the campus community will be in the presence of royalty when His Majesty Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III, The Leopard King of Dahomey and King of Porto-Novo in the Republic of Benin makes an official visit. His Majesty will be on Harbor Point as a guest and speaker at the academic symposium entitled “African Traditional Leadership and Globalization” to be held in the Campus Center’s Alumni Lounge on Wednesday April 23 at 4:00PM. The King will also be accompanied by Mr. Bernard Adjibodou, an Adjanan Oro, or spiritual leader of an ancient secret society in Benin.

King Hakpon III is one of the only “sitting kings” of Africa whose lineage traces back to a 13th century dynasty. His direct ancestor King Te-Agbanlin founded the city of Hogbonou/Adjatche in the 16th century, which is now the capital of the modern day Republic of Benin and is known as Porto-Novo.

His Majesty’s ancestors ruled over a kingdom known as Dahomey, which was composed a mixture of various local ethnic groups on the Abomey plain in West Africa next to what is modern day Nigeria. In 1892, the area was colonized by the French and in 1899 became part of the French West Africa colony. In 1958 it was granted autonomy as the Republic of Dahomey and full independence for the new nation began on August 1, 1960. The next twelve years were characterized by political turmoil in the form of a number of coups and regime changes until a military coup in 1972 established a Marxist-Socialist government and the country was renamed the Peoples Republic of Benin. After economic crises in the late 1980s which led to a national strike, the government was abandoned for a parliamentary capitalist system which has remained in place ever since.

While the King was no longer the official monarch of the country, the connection to the cultural traditions embodied in the King and his line were so strong that even under the Marxist-Socialist military government that ignored him, the King retained his place in the cultural hierarchy that had governed for generations. With the return of a democratically elected parliamentary government came the public recognition of the King and the culture represented by his position. The new government established a national holiday celebrating these traditions which had lived on privately in the hearts and minds of the people throughout the century of political upheaval following colonization.

During their time in Boston, the King and Mr. Adjibodou will give a series of lectures and public talks on traditional African culture and spirituality as well as the role of a sitting king in a modern African state. Exclusively during his appearance at UMass Boston, His Majesty is also expected to make a historic public apology for the role played by the dynastic kings of Dahomey in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The event at UMass Boston is sponsored by the Africana Studies Department, the Haitian Multi-Service Center of Greater Boston, and the African Students Union. Although the event is free, those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to the Office of Special Events by sending an email to [email protected] or by phone at 617-287-5312.

Benin Quick Facts? Benin has the 101st largest area of all countries in the world (112,622km2) and the 89th largest population (8,439,000) ? The official language of Benin is French, a remnant of the 19th century French colonizers? The large majority of the slaves transported to Haiti in the trans-Atlantic slave trade were from Benin? The religion of Vodoun began in Benin and is the basis for the Santeria religion popular amongst American slaves as well as what is known in some places as “Voodoo”.? Dahomey, the ancient kingdom that preceded the modern state of Benin, was famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps called Ahosi, or “our mothers” in the Fongbe language, and known in English as the Dahomean Amazons. Many scholars believe that this is the basis for the stories of the Amazons prevalent in Greek mythology.