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 kingship of Dassa rotates among the 41 princely families.

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 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 for the wrong reasons”, translated into “zomahoun” in the local dialect. This gave the family the surname Zomahoun which they have borne since then.

view of Dassa from one of its 41 hills
entrance to one of the 41 palaces of Dassa

An interesting anecdote about Adjiki is the story of his wooden horse. He owned four horses who died in short succession. Tired of mortal horses, he told 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.

Zomahoun’s immortal horse