Interview with the king of Cana, Dada Aïhotogbé Langanfin Glèlè
BY SOUMANOU SALIFOU
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARSENE KASSEGNE
Despite being a Republic, Benin is a country with a strong royal tradition. Probably every community boasts kings or other traditional chiefs. While these traditional rulers have a recognized moral and spiritual authority over their subjects who, clearly, respect and praise them, they have absolutely no legal authority of any kind in the Republic—even though they are sometimes used by politicians. This is in sharp contrast with the power once wielded by many kingdoms that ruled the territory now known as Benin prior to colonial invasion in the late 1880s.
The kingdom of Danxomê (wrongly called Dahomey by the French colonizer who didn’t know better) was the most sophisticated state in the entire space, with its political, economic and military might stretching from its capital Agbomê (not Abomey) all the way to the coastal port of Glexwé—now Ouidah in French.
To take the measure of the relevance of traditional rulers in modern-day Benin, The African had an exclusive interview with His Majesty Aïhotogbé Langanfin Glèlè, king of Cana—once the spiritual capital of the Daxome kingdom—on the occasion of the launch of a 57-day centennial celebration by the monarch to honor the memory of his late father and first king of Cana, Togongon Langanfin Glèlè.
The African: Your Majesty, first and foremost, why this centennial celebration in memory of your late father, King Togongon Langanfin Glèlè?
His Majesty Aïhotogbé Langanfin Glèlè: My father, King Togongon Langanfin Glèlè, was one of the five children of my grand-father, King Glèlè, who were appointed chiefs of “canton” [administrative unit] on the Agbomê plateau after the conquest of Danxomê by France. There were a total of eight such “cantons,” but none in Agbomê itself. My father was appointed chief of the “canton” of Cana on December 25th, 1916, exactly one hundred years ago.
After conquering Danxomê, the French didn’t want royal practices to continue. So they deported King Gbêhanzin in 1894 and named his brother Agoli-Agbo in his place. But they deported Agoli-Agbo too, six years later, to Gabon. However, while serving France as administrators, these children of Danxomê—who “control” the place—surprised the colonizer with their practices involving sustaining the cultural traditions of Danxomê, and therefore perpetuated the royal traditions in their areas. The colonizer gave in, so royalty continued in those areas. So my father became also the king of Cana, the spiritual city of the Danxomê kingdom. So we, his children, are now honoring his memory to show the Cana residents that Cana is the alpha and the omega of Danxomê. We are using this opportunity to bring out the true history of Cana relative to the Danxomê kingdom.
Majesty, what do you mean by “bring out the true history of Cana?”
As I said in my speech earlier today, Cana is the alpha and the omega of the Danxomê kingdom. It was Cana first, then Houawe, and finally Agbomê, but we feel Cana is being forgotten. In some books written by the colonizer himself, we can read that Cana is the spiritual city of Danxomê. For us, there would be no excuse to forget that. It would be unacceptable. You get punished by your ancestors for forgetting. And we don’t want to be punished. That’s why I told my people that we should do our best to bring out Cana’s history, let our children keep up the traditions though the arts, among other things.
What’s the relevance of royalty today, given that we are in a Republic?
Well, the West is jealous of us because they are forgetting their own traditions. People identify you through your traditions. Take the case of the Muslims. They name their children according to the spiritual name of the day. Nowadays, people go online, look for the names of stars and give their children those names. That’s not right. I want to uphold the traditions, and I give my children names of the Fon traditions. We need your support to spread this message to perpetuate our traditions.
Is royalty a full-time job?
I am a full-time king. After we split in a few moments and I go home, I will carry out another function at 8 p.m. I am king by day and night, and I work all the time as king. Because, when you rise to the position of king, you can’t just go to sleep. You are at the service of your people. My palace is always open, in case a child is ill, or other types of emergency. So I am totally glued to my people and to my royalty.