The King Shark (Behanzin Hossu Bowelle, Black History 365)

The Scramble for Africa or to put simply the colonization of Africa was destructive for the continent due to the invasion, occupation and division by European powers. In 1870 only 10% of the countries in the continent were under European control, but by 1914 it skyrocketed to 90% with only Ethiopia and Liberia not colonized. Having said that, in this post I will present a man fought against European Imperialism in the Dahomey Kingdom (Present day Benin). 

The Dahomey Kingdom, present day Benin during the 18th and 19th centuries was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Africa. The nation had one of Africa’s biggest armies at the time, including the powerful Dahomey Amazons. At the height of the Scramble for Africa they had extensive foreign trade with different European nations. The kingdom had a robust economy, as well as a highly functioning political structure. Even though the kingdom was strong, the French colonized it in 1894. However, the Dahomey Kingdom did not go down without a fight led by Dahomey’s last king known as King Shark.

Behanzin Hossu Bowelle was born in 1844, in the capital of Dahomey, Abomey. He was the son of King Glele, who at that time was king of Dahomey. Behanzin became the 11th King of Dahomey when his father died. After this he was referred to as the King Shark. A king is given a name reflecting his personal symbols as per Dahomey’s customs. The dolphin, the egg and the coconut palm trees are representations. 

As the King Shark, Behanzin Hossu Bowelle lived up to his reputation due to his fearlessness. He commanded a strong army as a ruler, with 150,000 males and 5,000 females. He was considered to be a brave and wise monarch. 

In 1868, the French government came to agreement to sign a treaty with King Glele (his father) before his death. The agreement placed Contonou’s territories under French control. However, they were prohibited from enforcing their customs and practices on the indigenous people. Subsequently, the French did not keep their word, and they were regarded strictly by the local people. The French were hoping to have a better relationship with the King Shark when King Glele died, but he was unable to play according to their rules. As a result, this contributed to one of the most important resistances to European invasion in Africa. 

The motto of King Shark was “the angry shark will terrorize his enemy” , and this is exactly how he fought against the colonizers from the West. Furthermore, he was able to battle endless wars against the French in Cotonou, Dogba, Poguessa, and Oueme Valley with his strong army, including the Amazons of Benin, and his relationship with Germany. Unfortunately, in 1894, the Battle of Adegon put an end to the brave war of King Shark because the French had better weapons than the Dahomey army. The French took possession of the kingdom afterwards. 

This caused The King Shark to be exiled to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean. He would spend the rest of his life on the island, but died in Algeria on African soil in 1906. Behanzin Hossu Bowelle is regarded today as one of Africa’s greatest rulers who refused to cooperate with colonizers and fought for his people.

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