Dahomey’s Royal Architecture : An Earthen Record of Construction, Subjugation, and Reclamation book cover
1st Edition

Dahomey’s Royal Architecture
An Earthen Record of Construction, Subjugation, and Reclamation

  • Available for pre-order on June 2, 2023. Item will ship after June 23, 2023
ISBN 9781032285542
June 23, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
232 Pages 50 B/W Illustrations

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USD $170.00

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Book Description

Dahomey’s Royal Architecture examines the West African kingdom of Dahomey, located in present-day Republic of Benin. The book examines the Royal Palace of Dahomey’s relationship to the religious, cultural, and national identity of the pre-colonial Kingdom of Dahomey (c. 1625-1892), colonial Dahomey (1892-1960) and post-colonial Benin (1960-present).

The Royal Palace of Dahomey covers more than 108 acres and was surrounded by a wall over two miles long. When the French colonial army arrived in Abomey in 1892, the ruling king set fire to the palace to keep it from enemy hands. Though much of the palace structure was subsequently left to ruin, a portion of it was restored from which the French ruled for a short period. In 1945, the colonial administration transformed part of the palace into a museum, and in 1985 the entire palace was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. This book documents the palace’s physical transformations in relation to its changing purposes and explores how the space maintained religious significance despite change. The palace’s construction, destruction, and restorations, demonstrate how architecture can be manipulated and transformed according to the agendas of governments or according to the religious and cultural needs of a populace. The palace functions as a historic record by discussing aspects of documentation, revision, language, and interpretation.

Covering almost four centuries of Dahomey’s history, this book will be of interest to researchers and students of African art and architecture, religious studies, west African history, and post-colonial studies.

Table of Contents

List of Figures



The Palace’s Plan, Fabric and Function

Chapter Outlines

Methodology and Acknowledgments

Chapter 1 - The Fish that Escaped the Net: The Establishment of Dahomey

Coding Gender: Hangbe

Interpreting and Capitalizing on the Code: Agadja


Chapter 2 - Like a Jar with Many Holes: The Palace in Pre-colonial Dahomey

Instability in the Eighteenth Century

The Contributions of Tegbesu, Kpengla, and Agonglo

Reshaping the palace and succession: Adandozan

Architecture of Power and Reception: The Palaces of Guezo and Glele


Chapter 3 - The Foot that Stumbled but did not Fall: The Palace under Colonial Rule

Fire and Restoration: Behanzin and Agoli-agbo I

Setting up Government: Victor Ballot and the Palace

Agoli-agbo’s Exile and the Rise of the Chefs de Canton

The Formation of the Historic Museum of Abomey and l’Institut Français d’Afrique Noire

Interpreting Dahomey through France’s Civilizing Mission

The Museum in its Colonial Context

Chapter 4 - The Shark and the Egg: The Post-colonial Palace

Modernization of Materials

The Palace’s Official Partnership with UNESCO

Cooperative Projects in the Museum

The Museum as a Post-colonial Entity


Chapter 5 - Nothing can Force the Buffalo to take off his Tunic: Dahomey’s Palace in Contemporary Abomey

Royal Vodun

Religious Purposes of the Pre-colonial Palace: Funerary Architecture and the Grand and Annual Customs

Tohosu and Nesuwhe


The Gandaxi


Chapter 6- Conclusion




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Lynne Ellsworth Larsen is an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, USA.