Kingdom of Whydah

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Crowning of the King of Whydah, by Jacob van der Schley (1715-1779)

The Kingdom of Whydah /ˈhwɪdə/, sometimes written Hueda, was a kingdom on the coast of West Africa in the boundaries of the modern nation of Benin. Between 1677 and 1681 it was conquered by the Akwamu a member of the Akan people.[1] It was a major slave trading post. Of 1700, it had a coastline of around 10 miles (16 km);[2] under King Haffon, this was expanded to 40 miles (64 km), and stretching 25 miles (40 km) inland.[3]

The kingdom, whose last ruler of this land was King Haffon, was centered in Savi.


The name Whydah (also spelt Whidah or Whidaw) is an anglicised form of Xwéda (pronounced o-wi-dah), from the Yoruba language of Benin. When the Portuguese first settled the southern coast of West Africa, they spelled the name Ajudá. Today the port city of Ouidah, in the far west of the former Popo Kingdom where most of the European slave traders lived and worked, bears the kingdom's name.

The area gives its name to the native whydah bird, and to pirate captain "Black Sam" Bellamy's Whydah Gally, a slave ship turned pirate ship, whose wreck has been explored in Massachusetts.

Life inside Whydah[edit]

According to one European account visiting in 1692–1700, Whydah exported some thousand slaves a month, mainly from the interior of Africa. For this reason, it has been considered a "principal market" for human beings. When the king could not supply the European traders with sufficient slaves, he would supplement them with his own wives. Robbery was common. Every thing in Whydah paid a toll to the king, but corruption amongst collectors was endemic. Despite this, the king was wealthy, and clothed in gold and silver—goods of which little was known in Whydah. He commanded great respect, and, unusually, was never seen to eat. The color red was reserved for the royal family. The king was considered immortal, despite successive kings dying of natural causes. Interregna, even of only a few days, were met by plundering and anarchy. Wives were isolated and protected by their husbands; fathers with more than two hundred children had been recorded. Three public objects were the subject of devotion: some lofty trees, the sea, and a type of snake. This snake was the subject of many stories and incidents; worshipped perhaps because it ate the rats who would otherwise ruin the harvest. Priests and priestesses were held in high regard, and immune from capital punishment. The king could field 200,000 men, but these were "so weak and cowardly" that they could easily be defeated.[2] In comparison, other estimates range upward from twenty thousand, although contemporary interpretation is generally that these armies were of "overwhelming size". Battles were normally won by strength of numbers alone, with the weaker side fleeing.[4]


  1. ^ Almanac of African peoples & nations. By Muḥammad Zuhdī Yakan.
  2. ^ a b Catherine Hutton (1821). "Whydah". The tour of Africa: Containing a concise account of all the countries in that quarter of the globe, hitherto visited by Europeans; with the manners and customs of the inhabitants 2. Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Robert Harms. "The 'Diligent': A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade". Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  4. ^ Edna G. Bay (1998). Wives of the leopard: gender, politics, and culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-1792-4. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  • Harms, Robert. The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. Basic Books: New York, 2002.

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