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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 299–337 | Cite as

The Dahomean Feast: Royal Women, Private Politics, and Culinary Practices in Atlantic West Africa

  • J. Cameron Monroe
  • Anneke Janzen
Original Article

Abstract

Feasting is a central component of elite power strategies in complex societies worldwide. In the precolonial Kingdom of Dahomey, located in the Republic of Bénin, public feasts were a critical component of royal strategies to attract and bind political subjects over the course of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, a period of dramatic political transformation on the Bight of Benin. Archaeological excavations within the domestic quarters of a series of Dahomean royal palace sites have yielded diverse faunal and ceramic assemblages that represent clear examples of (1) ritualized food consumption and (2) everyday culinary practices. In this paper, faunal and ceramic evidence from two excavated contexts is marshaled to distinguish the archaeological signatures of feasting in Dahomey, highlighting the importance of private feasts in attempts to build political influence in the domestic zones of Dahomean royal palaces. In particular, this analysis foregrounds how royal women jockeyed for power and influence during a period of political uncertainty.

Keywords

Gender Power Politics Feast Pottery Fauna Dahomey 

Résumé

À travers le monde, et parmi toutes les élites des sociétés complexes, la fête a toujours été un élément central dans les stratégies du pouvoir. Concrètement, dans le royaume précolonial du Dahomey, situé dans la République du Bénin, et au cours du 17ème au 19ème siècles, période dramatique de transformation politique dans le golfe du Bénin, les fêtes publiques ont constitué le coeur des stratégies royales destinées à attirer les sujets à la monarchie. Les fouilles archéologiques dans les zones intérieures des palais royaux dahoméens nous ont fourni de diverses collections de la faune et de la céramique, représentent des exemples clairs (1) des repas ritualizés, et (2), des habitudes alimentaires quotidiennes. Dans cet article, les preuves archéologiques obtenues au cours de deux fouilles sont assemblées, pour distinguer les traces archéologiques du phénomène de la fête dahoméenne, et pour révéler le role que les fêtes privées ont joué dans l’élaboration de l’influence politique à l’intérieur des palais royaux dahoméens. En particulier, cette analyse révèle comment les femmes royales ont agit, dans une période d’incertitude politique, ou bien pour obtenir du pouvoir, ou bien pour influir sur lui.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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