Ouidah, notable trading post of the slave trade from the 16th to the 19th century

Travel stories and collective memory have preserved the memory of King Kpasὲ (Kpassè) as the founder of the locality of Gléxwé, the embryo of what would be the city of Ouidah. The year of the founding of this locality is not known with precision. But we can say that it dates back to before 1580. Former farm of the king of Saxé (Savi) marked by Xwéda culture, Ouidah experienced development strongly linked to the history of the slave trade in the Gulf of Guinea. First the commercial center par excellence of the kingdom of Savi, this farm, which became Ouidah, “was gradually integrated into triangular trade and particularly the slave trade” (F. Iroko 2003).

Towards the end of the 16th century, the slave trade had become an imperative for Europeans. The consumption of coffee, sugar and tobacco has become part of European customs. The emergence of new needs legitimizes the colonization of fertile lands. Driven by this necessity, the Europeans looked for ports that could ensure the free continuation of the slave trade. Hence the rush to Gléxwé and the construction of numerous fortified trading houses. Thus, the era of European forts begins for Gléxwé. Ouidah has known at least three (03) forts. The first is the French fort or “Fort royal Saint-Louis de Grégory” built in 1671. It has disappeared from the city’s landscape. But its former location has been transformed into a public garden. The English’s “Fort Williams” built in 1682 is the second. It also disappeared from the urban landscape of Ouidah.

Initially known as the “Caesarean Fortress of Our Lady of Deliverance”, the third fort is that of the Portuguese built in 1721. It took the name “Fort Saint Jean-Baptiste d’Ajuda” and today houses the Museum History of Ouidah. Thus, from the end of the 16th century and until the beginning of the 18th century, the kingdom of Saxé or Savi, alongside that of Alada, actively participated in the slave trade. With the conquest by King Agaja of these two kingdoms, the center of this trade in the 18th and 19th centuries moved to Agbomὲ (Abomey), capital of the kingdom of Danxomὲ. In turn firm of the Xwéda king, of Saxé or Savi, Gléxwé later Ouidah will be the commercial city of the Xwéda kingdom of Savi then ocean gateway of Savi and Danxomὲ (Danhomè).

“But Ouidah is also a place of return which welcomed thousands of Afro-Brazilians after the abolition of the slave trade. The city of Ouidah today is deeply marked by the impact of these ebbs and flows both architecturally (the Afro-Brazilian style) and socially (influence of returning culture through Portuguese names, clothing and cooking habits…)” (EPA, 2008, p 27).

This rich and varied tangible and intangible heritage conceals significant tourist potential which is reinforced by the “Slave Route” approximately three and a half kilometers long, materializing the main historical stages of the slave journey. These include the Transaction Square (Place Chacha); the Tree of Oblivion (ritual place); Zomayi Square (place of “commodification”); the Zungboji Memorial (place of commemoration); the Door of No Return (place of commemoration). With this “Slave Route”, Ouidah represents, with a strong emotional charge, a pathetic testimony to the tragedy experienced by thousands of black people, torn from their land for unknown distant lands.

“Traveling this trail today and crossing the door of no return to end up at the ocean invites us to understand intimately the sad experience of deportation.” (EPA, 2008, P 28).

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