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The Aja are an ethnic group of native to south-western Benin and south-eastern Togo. According to oral tradition, the Aja migrated to southern Benin in the 12th or 13th centuries from Tado on the Mono River, and c. 1600, three brothers, Kokpon, Do-Aklin, and Te-Agdanlin, split the ruling of the region then occupied by the Aja amongst themselves: Kokpon took the capital city of Great Ardra, reigning over the Allada kingdom; Do-Aklin founded Abomey, which would become capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey; and Te-Agdanlin founded Little Ardra, also known as Ajatche, later called Porto Novo (literally, "New Port") by Portuguese traders and the current capital city of Benin.
Those Aja living in Abomey mingled with the local tribe, thus creating a new people known as the Fon, or "Dahomey" ethnic group. This group is now the largest in Benin. Another source claims the Aja were the rulers of Dahomey (Benin) until 1893, when the French conquered them. Currently, there are approximately 500,000 Ajas in an area straddling the border between Benin and Togo, 50 kilometres (30 miles) long and 30 km (20 mi) wide.
The Aja speak a language known as Aja-Gbe, or simply 'Aja'; only 1-5% are literate in their native tongue. According to one source, voodoo originated with the Aja. There are three dialects: Tàgóbé (in Togo only), Dògóbè (in Benin only), and Hwègbè (in both countries). Many are trilingual, also speaking French and Fongbe, the lingua-franca of southern Benin, while Ewe is spoken as a second language by those Aja living in Togo and Ghana.
Due to severe land shortages in the densely populated Togolese-Beninois border region mentioned above, many Aja have migrated in recent years, seeking arable land for subsistence farming or work in urban centers. There are a significant number of Aja living throughout the coastal region of Benin and Togo, southern Nigeria and Gabon. The urban centers of Cotonou, Lome, Lagos and Libreville all have significant Aja migrant populations.
The Aja, Fon, Ewe, Ga-Adangbe accounted for most of the people carried to the Americas from the Bight of Benin, Togo and Ghana in the transatlantic slave trade prior to the late eighteenth century (when Yoruba people became the more common captives from the region).
- Asiwaju, A. I. (1979). "The Aja-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria: A Note on Their Origins, Settlement and Cultural Adaptation up to 1945". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. 49 (1): 15. doi:10.2307/1159502. ISSN 0001-9720.
- Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery, 3rd ed. (New York: Cambridge UP, 2012), 79-80.
- In the context of slavery: Diouf, Sylviane A. (2003). Fighting the slave trade: West African strategies. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8214-1517-4.