Chacha VIII – Introduction to the King of Dahomey

Once he had been chosen as the head of the De Souza family, Honoré Julião Feliciano de Souza was conducted into the presence of King Agoli-Agbo Dédjahagni to claim the title of Chacha. The audience took place in the king’s private palace on the outskirts of Abomey on October 5th, 1995.

The delegation from Ouidah comprised 15 people, including Marcelin de Souza, the family’s eldest member, Noël Feliciano, representing the family’s Togo branch, and some of the family’s matriarchs, known as tassinons.

They were received in a large room furnished with one sofa for the king and one for the principal guests, as well as a number of armchairs arranged in a semicircle for the other participants. Two of the king’s ministers were seated on straw mats in front of the royal couch, and the other members of the Chacha’s retinue were placed at the back of the room alongside representatives of the press. The room was spacious and luxurious for local standards and the decor and furniture was similar to that seen in the wealthiest homes in Benin. The walls were painted sky blue and adorned with photographs of the king in different settings and of Pope John Paul II, as well as a traditional cloth with decorative patchwork representing the kings of Abomey, eight publicity calendars, and a statuette of the Virgin Mary, which hung over the king’s sofa.

Agoli-Agbo made a ceremonial entrance in the company of several women, who sat on the floor at his feet. Wearing a large pagne that hung over his shoulder and a traditional kufi, he sported a gold chain around his neck, a bracelet, and a silver nose filter – a hallmark of the kings of Abomey since the successor of Behanzin. After the king’s arrival, once everyone was settled, the king’s wives offered the Chacha a container full of water. He drank a mouthful and passed it to Marcelin, Noël Feliciano, and Generosa Sagboram, née de Souza, the tassinon who was seated next to him on the sofa. After the Migan, or first minister, proffered words of welcome on the king’s and his own behalf, Marcelin and the Chacha kneeled before the king, followed by two tassinons, then the oldest of the De Souzas uttered the following words in Fon:

“This is the one we shall put on the throne of Chacha and who we present to the king that he may care for him and bless him. His name is Honoré Feliciano de Souza. This is the one we shall put on the throne.”

He then took both Honoré’s hands and placed them between the hands of the king. The latter murmured a few words and spat on the hands of the future Chacha, who then rubbed them on his head. After this, the king solemnly said, “Nothing evil shall touch him,” and the family replied,

“Amen.”

The delegation from Ouidah returned to their places and the king’s spokesman, speaking on behalf of Marcelin de Souza, declared the following in Fon:

“The oldest of the De Souza family greets you, king and friend of our father. It is because of the bonds of friendship uniting the two families that we have come here to present he who will be our chief. We cannot make this introduction without saying something. Among ourselves, we call our friends: ‘Friend, come and drink the drink.’ We are pleased that the king has blessed our chief. And for this reason we offer four bottles of liquor: a bottle of Dubonnet, to signify that it was King Ghezo who helped me in his kingdom and raised my name. We give a bottle of Saint-James rum, two bottles of Heinneken gin, and an envelope of money. All this to salute the king for his blessing.”

The king then spoke:

“I thank you. They will receive what they have given a hundredfold. King Ghezo will watch over them.”

The king’s spokesman, speaking in Fon, now proffered words on behalf of the Chacha:

“The Chacha says he came here, he saw the other dignitaries with the king. He could not forget them. This is why he has given one thousand CFA francs. He cannot forget the Dah and Tata, and this is why he has given one thousand CFA francs. Assogba, who is alongside Mitô, 1 says he was the messenger between the king and the Chacha and that because of him, friendships have strengthened, and he cannot come here without saying something. As such, he gives 2,500 CFA francs. He also gives 1,000 CFA francs to the Vodoungan.” 2

Then he added:

“The king thanks you. All that you have done here proves that you really know history.”

The king again took the floor:

“We shall be with you on the day of the ceremony. Nothing will dismay you.”

Finally, the spokesman concluded the audience with the following words:

“His Majesty Dédjahagni Agoli-Agbo, successor of the ancient kings of Dahomey, chairman of the board of administration of the Rela Family of Abomey, wishes all the descendants of the De Souza family and their allied families a safe journey home. May the enthronement ceremonies be held according to the ritual that they themselves know and may everything come to pass in peace. He wishes that the day you come to Honmè Songbodji Palace of King Ghezo to receive the distinctions linked to this function in the court of the kings of Abomey, that the court be notified of this date as soon as possible that we may make all the preparations necessary to grant this event the importance it deserves. I thank you all.”

Everybody rose and the television journalist stepped forward and indirectly asked the king a question in Fon:

“The friends and descendants of the close friend and sworn servant of King Ghezo have come to see the successor of King Houégbadja show kpoge. They are very numerous today and occupy one or more districts. They have come knowing their history, they have received the blessing of the king. If we could hear the voice of the king, that would be good.”

The king’s reply:

“What you say is true. All those who have studied in this country should know about the friendship between King Ghezo and the Chacha. They also know what King Ghezo and the Chacha said to each other. This is sung and retold. If children hear the story and decide to perpetuate the tradition, that is a good thing. They are what intellectuals call a diaspora. To resolve any matter in Ouidah today, one cannot ignore the De Souzas. If they say they will continue with the honor that their forefather had in Dahomey, they must be blessed so that they may have peace in the name of King Ghezo and the former Chachas. And Singbomey will regain its former glory. The new Chacha will unite the family and there will be peace.”

The family responded with “amen” and then the journalist asked one final question to the king:

“They have come to show kpoge. Can it be said that it has been accepted by the king?”

The king’s reply:

“This question can no longer be asked. I have already said and made clear that on this day we will be with our friends of King Ghezo and everything will pass joyfully.”

The king, his wives, and his ministers arose and headed for the exit, followed by the Chacha’s delegation. A woman held a parasol decorated with symbols of the former kings of Abomey over the king’s head as he accompanied the Chacha to the great doorway leading out to the royal courtyard, under the attentive gaze of the television cameras. There were journalists already awaiting them outside. The Chacha then spoke for the first time since he reached the palace. Speaking in French, he declared:

“I shall be enthroned Chacha on October 7th: in two days’ time. The family resolved to bring me to see the king to show him that I am the one who will be the head of the family. I plan to work with dignity, to make the family stronger.”


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