The Journal of African History

Research Article

Dahomey and the Slave Trade: Reflections on the Historiography of the Rise of Dahomey

Robin Lawa1*

a1 University of Stirling

The rise of the kingdom of Dahomey coincided with the growth of the slave trade in the area, and consequently has often served as a case study of the impact of the slave trade upon African societies. The article reviews the historiography of the rise of Dahomey, in an attempt to clarify the relationship between the nature of the Dahomian state and its participation in the slave trade. It considers, and refutes, the view that the rulers of Dahomey had originally intended to bring the slave trade to an end. It examines the militaristic character of the Dahomian state, and suggests that this is best understood as a consequence of increased warfare stimulated by the overseas market for war captives. Finally, it examines and partially endorses those views which have presented the political centralization of Dahomey as a constructive response to the problems of order posed by slave-raiding.


* Earlier versions of this paper were read at seminars at the University of Stirling in 1984 and at the Centre of West African Studies of the University of Birmingham in 1985. The writer's thanks are due to those who participated in discussion on those occasions, and also to Robert Smith and John Reid, who generously supplied relevant material and ideas.