Benin: of kings and horses


The last stop of the Ebony Train is in Dassa, an ancient city built on 41 hills, each owned by a princely family. The families rotate to pick a King of Dassa.

We meet with Hippolyte Zomahoun, the great grandson of King Adjiki of Dassa. Adjiki, in 1900, sheltered the last King of Dahomey, Behanzin, from the French who were pursuing him after his defeat.

The French tried to torture Adjiki into surrendering Behanzin to them by tying him to a fire, but the flames would not harm him. As he walked off the burning pyre, unscathed, Adjiki reportedly said  “the flames do not burn without a purpose”, translated into “Zomahoun” in the local dialect. This gave the family the surname Zomahoun which they have borne since then.

An interesting anecdote about Adjiki is the story of his wooden horse. He owned four horses who successively died. Tired of mortal horses, he mentioned to his friend, a Portuguese trader that he needed an immortal horse. The crafty trader had a beautiful wooden horse on wheels made for him in Portugal. Zomahoun was then able to be wheeled around on his wooden horse, dragged by servants.