Historical objects  Ancient cities 28.11.2015. Abomey

абомей африкаThe clay walls of Abomey

When you see a person every day, you almost do not notice what is happening with him changes. Need to leave him for a while, to see what has changed in a familiar face.

The same happens with cities. In some of them, most often in large cities, new immediately catches the eye. But it is well known that they are not the whole country and noticed a new may merely be a tribute to the time. But small quiet provincial town never in such cases do not cheat, and if they came new, it came long and intends to expand throughout the County, throughout the country.

Abomey is a town with 30 thousand population, situated 180 kilometers from the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, once the capital of the ancient Kingdom Manhome, and now the administrative center of one of the six provinces of people's Republic of Benin. Many times I've come here during the five years of life in Benin, but I will only discuss the particularly memorable encounters with Abomey, including one that coincided with an important event in the history of this old town.

It was already dark. As it should be in the tropics, the air, even a half hour ago soaked the reddish glow of sunset, now became black and thick. It even seemed that it got cold, but the feeling that was clearly deceptive — what really cold here!

It seems that the Abomey sank into slumber together with the last rays of the sun. No spark, even at large intersections do not burn the oil lamp of night market women, always, midnight, after midnight, in any tiny town you can buy a box of matches, a jar of tomato paste or condensed milk, cigarettes in bulk or a handful rasciesa from the heat of cheap candy.

АбомейPassers-by also few, occasionally in the headlights flashed, bright as butterflies, stepping into the dust at the side of bare feet. I drove slowly, focusing on width of streets and roads nakatannoy that, I was sure, was to move to the city's only hotel — Motel. Crossroads gave way intersection, and then the street suddenly opened, swung wide in an enormous area, and lights came out of the darkness moving towards the procession, gently curving under inaudible music of the body, bare shoulders, shaved bald but obviously female head, laid-back person. When I shut off the engine, became audible music: klatsanye rhythm metal castanets, inconsistent roll of the snare drum and the voice of some tool. Anguished, muffled the sound of it caused almost physical sensation, as if someone gently and at the same time strongly pressed the palms on the ears, and then abruptly released.


The procession slowly passed in front of the car and disappeared into the darkness. Brought up the rear, two men in motley robes spacious with electric torches. One of them pointed me the way.

The only servant of the Motel — the doorman, the receptionist, cook and waiter nice rare at this time of the year guest. He took me through the empty rooms, where from the ceiling hung tied with a knot mosquito nets, then dragged two buckets of water to wash and ran to the kitchen to cook scrambled eggs.

...Early in the morning at the porch stood a tall guy in a form-fitting shirt, with a bracelet-chain at the wrist excessively flared trousers, shoes-clogs high-heel — in a word, dressed in the fashion "know ours". These can be found in many capitals in cinemas, discos, but here, in respectable provincial Abomey...

Bonjour, Guten Morgen, how Doo Yoo Doo, Doug, ' he said, smiling from ear to ear.

"Good morning," I replied.

— To-Aubrey-rd rd-EN, — echoed the same. — And what country are you from, Monsieur?

— From The Soviet Union.

Is in the North, in Europe, — mused the boy, revealing a remarkable knowledge of geography, and confidently finished: — Next to Canada.

I did not dissuade the young polyglot, who introduced the ninth descendant of king Glele and offered its services as guide. After all, a Scion of the Royal race, and geography, as we know, science is not noble. And very few people knew anything about our country at that time in the Benin hinterland. However, not only in the Outback.

The guy spoke slowly, distinctly, almost syllable by syllable — see, used to dealing with tourists. It was clear slick, but in a strange city without a guide can not do, besides the guy knew places to start and took me to the Smiths — masters of abayskogo copper casting.

"On the belly of Dan"

Those who had to see that, in the hands of a master is born beauty, probably, noticed, how great is the contrast between the ugliness of the manufacturing process and the finished perfection of the finished product. Copper casting is a good example. Sooty black wattle and daub hut with a hole-extractor fan in the ceiling, stifling in the heat, glistening with sweat figures journeymen on the background of coals, lumps of modelling clay, ash, ashes, in a word, pandemonium. In the yard on the flat stones exposed finished products: stylized, slightly elongated figures of people and animals, whole compositions depicting scenes of everyday life, hunting, fishing. Stories, of course, repeated, but not copied, as a method of casting called "lost wax", does not allow to make exact copies.

Casting method this is known in many West African countries, and it is difficult to say when it was applied abomasum masters. We only know that the Smiths of the family of Hountondji settled here by order of the Aho, the founder of abayskogo Kingdom, who lived in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was at this time the legends tell of the origin of the city of Abomey.

Fearing their neighbors, with whom he waged constant war, Aho has built a fortification. The resulting settlement became known as "agbo-IU", which means "inside the walls" — hence the name of the city of Abomey. As for the name of the Kingdom, there is a legend about this: Aho wanted to build a house for one of his sons and asked one captain called Dan to give him the land for construction. The angry infinite claims of the neighbor refused, indignant at this: "Yet a little while, and you will begin to build in my belly."

And what, at the first opportunity AXO dealt with Dan and ordered to bury his body at the site of the future home. So he really established his Kingdom "in the belly of Dan" in the language background "Danjo-me". So, the legend goes, there was a Kingdom of ethnic background Canhome.

It is difficult to judge about the historical value of this tradition, especially given that a similar name was met on the maps of European navigators in the sixteenth century, even for a hundred years before the appearance of the legend. But when you think about existed in many parts of Africa the ancient custom to erect palaces and FORTS on the place of burial of sacrificed humans and animals...

Among other statuettes was showing and this ancient legend: Aho stands over the body of a defeated enemy.

The Board Aho — he took the Royal name of Wegbaja is associated with the appearance in Abomey and other crafts. The fourth king Canhome Agaja made in the Palace workshops of carving and embossing leather, the seventh king Anglo blossomed art abomasa weavers, and the ninth of king Glele was known as a talented musician, founder of new rhythms in the national music. All the artisans worked only on the monarch and his courtiers. The king was kept, their families, the most talented artists were honored as Ministers. One king even sent the master of the family Hountondji to Europe to study the jewelry case.

— Listen, and someone from Hountondji is now engaged in blacksmithing or jewelry? I asked his companion, believing that the ninth descendant of king should know about this story.

— We were just visiting them, ' he said.

Seeing that there were buyers, we hurried to the fellow of years of ten with a whole tray of brass figures. About his involvement in the shop floor casters said shorts, who replaced long-khaki on the color of soot.

— What's your name? I asked.

— Logs Hountondji, ' replied the boy.

Architectural branch of the family tree

The word "Palace", when it comes to the residences of African kings, can be misleading. Home African king and his subjects are different, perhaps only by the scale, the number of people living in them and the size of surrounding land. And for the dwelling of Sultan Umar in lost in the Sands of the Sahara Agadez, or my Emperor — Mora-Nabba in the capital Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, or the king of bariba in the town of Nikki in the North of the people's Republic of Benin the General definition seems to be "the Palace is the big hut".

Imagine-lined with centuries-old trees of an enormous size — it was her who I got the night before, looking for the Motel— and-daub walls and a half-two human growth, for which one can see thatched with palm leaves huts. Walls built from the same lying under the feet of the red laterite, and because it seems that they are one with the desert, burnt by the sun area. Most of the interior Palace buildings resemble each other; they are from the same bat lateritious clay layers in 70 to 80 centimeters, only the walls are plastered and the surface trowelled palm oil.

Each of the governors Canhome built near the dwelling of his predecessor, the new apartments and also surrounded them by a fortified wall. The ensemble of buildings, which was started by the founder of the Kingdom of Wegbaja, constantly grown in the southern and Eastern areas and to the middle of the last century occupied the territory of about 40 hectares, representing a kind of architectural family tree abomasa kings. To our time are best preserved in the youngest age structures of the last century.

Enter the Palace through in and attached to the inside wall of the rectangular building. Previously, it housed the sentries and the Royal messengers, and now the Museum ticket office. Not tall, lean man in mouse-colored suit similar to an ordinary official is sticking out of your pocket a set of colored pens. Abomasa beanie — black, similar to a shortened red FEZ, with colour fabric appliqués, did not hide his graying temples and emphasized color reddish-brown faces of Vincente Chinhae Choke. With dignity, he bowed his head a little to one side and without another word led us to the Palace Museum.

The ninth descendant of the king in the presence of the old Keeper was walking modestly behind, sweeping the flares abundant dust Royal courts.

Six thousand Amazons

— We are in the Palace of king Glele, his first in the outer court, called Kadodi that the background language means "meeting place" or "place where one should stop," said the Keeper softly. — There were held festive and ritual ceremonies, the king conferred with his Ministers.

But there was a door connecting Kotoji with the court of the Amazons, — the old man stated with a heavy cane.

The Amazon... So, by analogy with the legendary female warriors from Greek mythology, called European travelers of female soldiers, made up the personal guard of kings abomasa. These troops were created during the reign of the fourth king, Ahadi in order to fill the shortage of soldiers-men. But eventually the Amazons were formed when the eighth king of get that have made real impact of its army. Fearless and ruthless, equally well-wielding firearms and machetes, they were the terror of the enemy and their ferocious onslaught was decided the outcome losing battles.

As the soldiers-the men, the Amazons were divided into regiments of the left and right wing of their Number, as we now believe, exceeded six thousand. For the period of military service of Amazon was a vow of celibacy, but said, "We — men". According to custom, all the girls of the Kingdom at a certain age were to be presented to the king, who chose among them the future of Amazon.

This is how these women soldiers, a French naval officers who visited Abomey in 1860:

"At the right hand of the king was about six hundred women from its protection, sitting motionless on the carpet cross-legged, with guns in hand; behind them more ranks of the dark hunters on elephants, dressed in brown fabric with long carbines, with blackened trunks... Behind the Royal chairs, stood the commandant of the women's guard, noted for its rich weapon, warlike, numerous amulets and, finally, the sign of her titles on her belt she had tied a few horse tails".

The building of the Armoury hall — atangeo — dedicated to the God of war and iron, GU. In the local Pantheon is one of the most dangerous, but because, perhaps, the most revered of the gods. Even today on the roads of Benin hit by a car a chicken or a goat is unlikely that anyone will choose to put on lunch, they were killed by GU, no one will dare to take the victim to the deity. The driver of the car faces is that the angry tirade by the hostess of the animal. Statue of GU is established immediately — she's the size of a human size and made of welded and forged iron. The GU body as if enclosed in a huge conical shell, the face distorted ferocious grin, and blows cold face of death, the thirst for destruction. But in his headdress and a woven image of peaceful labor — they too became of iron, and GU is the God of blacksmiths.

— This is only a copy and the original is in the Museum of Man in Paris, as, indeed, many other exhibits, — with bitterness says the old Keeper.

In colonial times were plundered many cities like Benin and other countries in Africa. So I often seen in Museum exhibits plates to a standard phrase: "the Copy. The original is..." Next came the names of British, French, German and other museums

In one of the halls the guardian stopped at a half-meter thick-walled vases. Taking lying near a small leather fan shaped racket for table tennis, he gently tapped on the neck of the vase. And I heard struck me in the night in the square deaf, hysterical sound.

— Try it yourself — the old man handed me the fan. Is funeral drums "Sanli".

I lowered the fan, and the rounded vessel boomed hopeless and lingering, as if mourning someone.

In the Armory room my attention was attracted by ready, from the Portuguese word "recados" — messenger. The legend says that once peasants who worked in the field of Abomey, were caught by surprise enemies, they defended hoes; the enemy fled, and since that day this simple weapon of farmers has become a weapon. And later, slightly altered and decorated with symbols — the emblem of valor and Royal power.

Sending a messenger with recadi was tantamount to moving the king, rekada confirmed that the messenger brought the Royal command. For landed on the coast of foreigners the arrival of ready meant the permission to go into the country, in Abomey, it was a pass and safe conduct.

At the top of recadi was usually depicted symbolic animal impersonating the king. In the Armory hall were ready with the image of a lion — the emblem of Glele, sharks, the last king of Behanzin, chameleon — third of the king of Aqaba. For us, the chameleon is a symbol of cunning and opportunism, and Africans noted his calmness and deliberation necessary to achieve the goal.

Third Aqaba king chose as his motto the words: "Slowly, silently, the chameleon climbs to the top of the baobab". The image of the beast first printed on postage stamps, released in 1972, the new revolutionary Military government.

The girls from the women's division of the people's armed forces of Benin...Young face square HOJO

Abomey treasures its traditions, but it would be wrong to assume that the ancient Royal capital lives only memories of antiquity. Rather, it was, but the events of recent years have opened the way for a new and in this city.

At the southern entrance to Abomey has a wide green area, surrounded by newly built and under construction homes. This area

Goho who witnessed two very important events. The first of these occurred at the end of the last century and had serious consequences. Here, after a long and hard struggle against the colonial powers was forced to surrender Behanzin — the last king free Canhome. French expansion on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea began in the second half of the last century. Initially, her main weapon was trade, since the classic version of the preparation of colonial conquest: "the missionary — trader — soldiers" in this case was violated because of the refusal abomasa kings to accept the Catholic missionaries. Then France occupied almost Cotonou in an effort to establish a protectorate over the coastal regions of the Colonizers begin to prepare for a military takeover Canhome, what seemed to them simple and short. But it took more than four years and three military campaigns to break the resistance of Africans. The first attempt of the invaders ended in defeat. For the second campaign against a small African state, France has concentrated enormous power — about three and a half thousand soldiers and officers.

The soldiers of king Behanzin fought with true heroism — flint rifles against rapid-fire rifles and, according to witnesses, they "rather take his own life on the spot, than retreated and surrendered".

When November 17, 1892 the enemy came in set on fire by its inhabitants Abomey, Behanzin gave up and switched to guerrilla war. Only in January 1894 he gave up the fight and here at Piazza HOJO, surrendered to the commander of the French expeditionary corps. The day before, collecting the last of his soldiers, Behanzin thanked them for their loyalty and honored the memory of those who never returned from the battlefield.

The element of application — the crocodile like a lion or a shark — totem animals CanhomeFor many years the size of HOJO was a place of shame for the people of the country, a place of mourning. It is no accident eighty years later it is the size of Goho Military revolutionary government chose to proclaim it at the beginning of the last stage of the struggle for genuine liberation — building in the country of new society, of a socialist type. So the past of the country came into contact with the future.

That day in Abomey celebrated the national holiday — the revolution Day. On the decorated square were columns of demonstrators, and plenty of young people recalled that the Benin country is young in the literal sense of the word — more than half of its population are residents under the age of 18 years.

The next and last time I arrived in Abomey in two years at the invitation of a friend of the journalist and sociologist. I met him when he was teaching in one of capital high schools. Once in October 1972 came to power, the Military revolutionary government, he, like many other representatives of the progressive youth was sent into a leading role in the interior of the country.

Only by happy coincidence that day I managed to reach his friend — he is in constant traveling, in meetings, workshops, meetings in villages — the peasants it is necessary to explain the government's programme and the people's revolutionary party of Benin, the goals set by a new authority, the methods which should be implemented. And now I caught him already at the door.

— I have here in school to look, ' he said. If you want, come with me, it's exciting. We in our time are not studied.

The time was early, but on the way we overtook the students in the bright, colors of coffee with milk, form, with packs tied with a strap of books and notebooks in hand, and even on the head.

— Working in the capital, said on the move my friend — I never had any idea how complex the problems facing the country. As a sociologist, I knew the consequences of colonial domination for Benin, knew that more than 90 percent of the population illiterate, the country lacks doctors, hospitals. Because for sixty-odd years of colonial was not solved even the most pressing issue — the water issue. So far in our province there are almost no wells, and the villagers drink stagnant water from ponds and swamps. This means that persistent disease, the risk of epidemics. In these places a lot of rain, but the evaporation absorbs three-quarters of precipitation. Water is unequally distributed, where there is too much are swamps, where few farmers suffering from drought. You need to build dams, drain swamps, dig wells. And how we decide this vital question, will largely depend on the popularity of socialist ideas in Benin.


On the bas-reliefs depicting scenes of military exploits, the characters abomasa kings, totem animals. Paint them with vegetable and mineral dyes.School was really unusual — with a mathematical bent. It was created with far sight — the graduates will continue their studies in institutions of higher education to become engineers, so necessary for nascent national industries.

I was surprised by the device classes of children sat at round tables set in a light room in apparent disorder. But then it became clear that the tables drawn up in the cells and the children sit facing each other. Teaching tables was not, but in every classroom two boards installed in opposite corners of the room.

— Such a device class is no accident, I explained one of the teachers. — With this system there is no front and rear desks, which means that there is no distinction between bad and good students. You know, there is a tendency to plant ahead academically, but behind students are worse. Children are children, they want to twirl, to twist his head to move. In short, out of their overflowing energy. And let's revolve on your health. And experience with two blackboards showed that the shift contributes to the best mastering of a material.

маски бенинаWe ran classes from primary, where six-year-old kids in the form of games learned the concept of "more" and "less", and to the seniors, where students can easily cope with equations, which occupied the half of the Board. In the last class one of the students raised his finger and asked permission to ask the guest a question. I was slightly worried, remembering the mathematical bias of the school, but the girl just asked for my land.

— From the Soviet Union, — I answered and asked in turn: — And you know where that is?

Students carefully listening to our dialogue, in a low voice began to talk.

You know, it is the largest country. There is the capital to Moscow, ' said the girl. — And you have the revolution was in October. As we do, only many years earlier.

And I realized that in Abomey has changed not only the geography.

But if in a small quiet provincial town is new, it came long and intends to expand throughout the County.

Across the country...

Autor:  N. Baratov