At the time of the Atlantic triangular slave trade, African soon-to-be slaves were mostly captivated by other Africans. These other Africans sold them to white merchants along the coast who then abducted them to the Americas.

In Benin, the captors mostly stemmed from the Dahomey kingdom. This kingdom was founded in the early 17th century by the Fon people and took over parts of the coast in the early 18th century. Though famous for employing women in its army, it wasn’t the “African amazons” that made the Dahomey kingdom a regional power; it was enslaving other Africans. By doing so, the ruling Fon people got access to European weapons, which meant they could extend and protect their territory and capture even more other Africans.

Of course, the soon-to-be slaves weren’t too thrilled about what the Dahomey kingdom had in mind for them and were looking for ways not to be caught by slave hunters. Luckily, they found a loophole: the slave hunters belonged to the Fon tribe. They were inland people and neither believed their gods wanted them to fight on water nor knew about naval warfare. Thus, settling on water meant you wouldn’t be kidnapped, and people built villages on stilts. These people were originally from different tribes but their stilt villages made them Tofino tribe.

Of course, this didn’t stop the Fon from slave hunting in general, and by the mid 18th century, the Dahomey kingdom’s main source of income was trading slaves. When slavery was prohibited elsewhere, the Fon switched to using inner-kingdom slave labour to produce palm oil. Regardless of their adaptability, the French took over the Dahomey kingdom in the late 19th century.

The Tofino stilt villages survived though; maybe it was also a good protection against colonial powers to live on water. You can only reach them by boat, they don’t have sewage or electricity, and they mostly rely on fishing. Ganvié is the most famous of these villages and has another important income these days: tourism. Aguégués is more original, it’s easy to reach from Porto-Novo.


These are some impressions from when I visited Aguégués in October 2016.