Béhanzin (c. 1845 – December 10, 1906) is considered the eleventh (if Adandozan is not counted) king of Dahomey, today’s Republic of Benin.
After taking the throne, he changed his name from Kondo.
He succeeded his father, Glele, and ruled from 1889 to 1894. Béhanzin was the last independent ruler of Dahomey, established through traditional power structures.
He led the resistance to the French colonization of his kingdom during the Dahomey Wars. Each of the kings of Dahomey was represented in the sculpture with images referring to the proverbs, associations, and puns attached to his royal name.
Images symbolizing Behanzin (or Gbehanzin) include an egg held by one hand, as the words for these in the Fon language form a rebus, or pun, of the real name.
As seen in the giant wooden statue once exhibited in the royal palace of Abomey (and now at the Musee Quai Branly in Paris), the shark is a metaphor for Behanzin; as the shark does, the king guards the coast of the kingdom of Dahomey.
A prisoner hanging from a flagpole refers to a man from Nago, or Yoruba, the city of Ketou, a powerful rival state.
This prisoner had boasted that he could attack the king with magic, but Behanzin had hanged him from a flagpole as punishment for his rebellion.
The king’s most famous symbol is the pipe.
This is because he claimed there wasn’t a minute in his life, even when he was a child, that he wasn’t smoking tobacco.
His people saw Béhanzin as intelligent and courageous.
He saw that Europeans were gradually invading this section of the West African coast and, as a result, attempted a foreign policy to isolate Europeans and repel them.
As a prince shortly before the death of his father Glele, Béhanzin refused to meet the French envoy Jean Bayol.