This year, we will welcome you in Ouidah, a city located at 42 km west of Cotonou, in the Gulf of Guinea. Propelled in front of the stage during the last decade on the occasion of two large international cultural events “Ouidah 92” then “The Slave Route”, the city seems to have engaged since then in a new era of its history, a renaissance that wants to draw all the lessons from its past as a slave port and slave city.
It was under the reign of the eighth King Kpassè that a peasant named Kpatè, working in his field near the coast, saw a ship on the sea. Impressed by the phenomenon, he waved a loincloth tied to the end of a stick. The Portuguese sailors, who were occupying the ship, having noticed it, sent a boat on shore. And for the first time, they witnesses in the white men with red ears that, in their astonishment, Kpatè and his ilk called “zojagé” or “zodjagué” (literally “the fire arrived at the shore”). Led to the king, who gave them hospitality by offering them food and goats according to tradition, the Portuguese guests offered back to the king fabrics, mirrors and other junk. The sovereign allowed them, moreover, and above all, to settle and trade with his kingdom. Later, followed the English, the Dutch, the French … Trade developed quickly and soon specialized on the slave trade that fed the interethnic wars. In 1716, when the gigantic English slave ship Whydah Gally arrived to buy 500 slaves to King Haffon to resell in Jamaica, the kingdom of Whydah had become the second largest slave port of the triangular trade. The slaves were gathered in one place to be sold. Then, they traveled chained the few kilometers that separated them from the beach. The families of the city of Ouidah who owe their economic prosperity and their social rise to this trade have inscribed in their panegyrics some memories of this activity in which the slave ancestor is presented as a hero.
Thus one of the families of Ouidah is celebrated by the following eulogy:
- We can brave the ashes and not the fire
- The king’s big sales agent, your name pleases
- You lend money to the European off
- You sell without counting
- Crying breaks out as soon as the slaves see you visiting their prison
- The Portuguese is saddened by the fact that you sold him old slaves.
What to remember from the story of Ouidah? Edifying of course, the former city of slavery is now moving on, after a humble and sincere recognition of its past.