Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Hueda (Whydah) Country and Town: Archaeological Perspectives on the Rise and Collapse of an African Atlantic Kingdom*

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Hueda (Whydah) Country and Town: Archaeological Perspectives on the Rise and Collapse of an African Atlantic Kingdom*

Article excerpt

Introduction

On March 9, 1727, advance troops from the kingdom of Dahomey met little direct military resistance as they crossed the body of water- often glossed by European chroniclers as the River Euphrates and known in the region today as Lake Toho- located approximately one kilometer north and east of the Huedan palace complex at Savi (Figure I).1 Documentary accounts from European traders then living in the region suggest that Dahomean troops proceeded to first sack and burn the palace at Savi and thereafter to raze European trading lodges located therein.2 During these attacks, tens of thousands of Huedans were displaced, thousands killed, and thousands more removed to Abomey or designated for later sale across the Atlantic.3 After the attack, William Snelgrave suggested that King Agaja of Dahomey sacrificed approximately 4,000 Huedan prisoners to commemorate the victory.4 The Dahomean campaign of conquest brought to a close the centrality of Savi as an international trading venue, a regional administrative center, a focal point for Huedan religious life, and the place of final appeal in Huedan judicial matters. With the Huedan royalty humbled, Agaja moved local political and economic administration to Ouidah.5 After the sacking of Savi, Huedans, living in exile around Lake Aheme near Grand Popo, mounted sporadic and unsuccessful raids against Dahomean Ouidah until the 1770s.6 Despite the proximity of Savi to Ouidah, the adjacency of Savi to known trade routes, and the apparent interest of European observers in regional strife and raiding, historical accounts after 1727 are silent on political or military pressure exerted on Dahomean Ouidah by Huedans remaining in the sacked region surrounding Savi.

Based predominantly on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European traders' accounts and to a much lesser extent modern local oral sources, the historiography of Hueda portrays with vivid detail the period of Hueda' s fluorescence, where kings channeled gains from Atlantic exchanges toward local political pursuits.7 The same historiography recounts fracture points developing in the Huedan political world as local community leaders and administrators, sometimes glossed by European traders as governors or caboceers, worked to bolster their own positions. Accordingly, European traders and travelers unanimously describe Hueda as a kingdom embroiled in periodic political discord throughout the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century. During the reign of the last Huedan king Huffon, rival factions reportedly coalesced around regional community leaders who sought access to, or greater control over, international trade networks and in so doing added to the brittleness of the Huedan political coalition.8 Based on the accounts of European traders and travelers, the rise and fall of Hueda has been welltheorized and historicized in relation to the global political and economic forces of the Atlantic as well as regional political maneuverings, exchanges, debates, and wholesale warfare. However, as noted in an editorial comment by Thomas Astley,9 a compiler of European accounts, there is reporting bias inherent to this line of evidence: traders had restricted knowledge of the zone of Huedan settlement beyond the confines of the road connecting Ouidah beach and Savi.10

Accordingly, modern historical explorations underpinned by western documentary and cartographic sources are relatively opaque in describing the fuller content of the Hueda kingdom (Figure 2). Indeed, we know little about the Huedan countryside beyond documentary accounts suggesting a dense collection of settlements that contained a differentiated population of regional community leaders, artisans, agriculturalists, traders, and enslaved individuals. 1 1 Given the lacunae of evidence directly addressing the rural and outlying communities of Hueda, discussions of political, social, and economic dynamics of the Hueda kingdom are likewise biased towards evidence drawn from Huedan urban spaces and their European and African residents. …

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