Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey

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University of Virginia Press, Jun 29, 2012 - History - 392 pages
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Wives of the Leopard explores power and culture in a pre-colonial West African state whose army of women and practice of human sacrifice earned it notoriety in the racist imagination of late nineteenth-century Europe and America. Tracing two hundred years of the history of Dahomey up to the French colonial conquest in 1894, the book follows change in two central institutions. One was the monarchy, the coalitions of men and women who seized and wielded power in the name of the king. The second was the palace, a household of several thousand wives of the king who supported and managed state functions.

Looking at Dahomey against the backdrop of the Atlantic slave trade and the growth of European imperialism, Edan G. Bay reaches for a distinctly Dahomean perspective as she weaves together evidence drawn from travelers' memoirs and local oral accounts, from the religious practices of vodun, and from ethnographic studies of the twentieth century. Wives of the Leopard thoroughly integrates gender into the political analysis of state systems, effectively creating a social history of power. More broadly, it argues that women as a whole and men of the lower classes were gradually squeezed out of access to power as economic resources contracted with the decline of the slave trade in the nineteenth century. In these and other ways, the book provides an accessible portrait of Dahomey's complex and fascinating culture without exoticizing it.

 

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Contents

Power the Monarchy and the Palace
6
Learning about Dahomey
27
From Dahomeys Origins to 1740
40
The Authority of Princesses
51
Customs Court and the Palace in the Early 1700s
63
Adonon and the Creation of the Office of Kpojito
74
Chapter 3
80
The Kpojito Hwanjile
91
The Kpojito Agontime
178
Chapter 6
223
Surveillance and the Palace
233
Religion and Royal Control
250
Succession in the Time of Glele and Behanzin
259
War Disintegration and the Failure of the Ancestors
274
The War with the French
284
Agoliagbo and the Aftermath of the French Conquest
305

The Impact of Oyo
110
The Struggle to Maintain the State
119
The Military in the Late Eighteenth Century
129
The Palace in the Late Eighteenth Century
142
Successions and Political Instability
153
Chapter 8
312
Notes
323
Glossary
353
Index
367
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Page 24 - Were it not for a slight cast in his eye, he would be a handsome man. Contrasted with the gaudy attire of his ministers, wives, and cabooceers (of every hue, and laden with coral, gold, silver, and brass ornaments), the king was plainly dressed, in a loose robe of yellow silk slashed with satin stars and half-moons...

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About the author (2012)

Edna G. Bay is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University and is the editor of several books in African studies.

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