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11 - 18 October 2006 
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History of Porto Novo

Porto-Novo is the official capital city of Benin with a population of 223,552 according to the 2002 census. It is located at 6°28' North, 2°36' East and is a port on an inlet of the Gulf of Guinea, in the southeastern portion of the country. It is Benin's second largest city and an administrative and shipping center. This region around Porto-Novo produces palm oil, cotton and kapok. Petroleum was discovered off the coast of the city in the 1990s, and has become an important export. Compared to Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin, Porto Novo is less important commercially and industrially. 

The city was probably founded in the late 16th century by the legendary King Te-Agdanlin of Allada. It received its name from the Portuguese meaning "New Port". The Portuguese had built a trading post here in the 17th century which was originally developed as a port for the slave trade.

Africans were shipped as slaves from Porto-Novo to the Americas. In 1863, the British, who were active in the nearby Nigeria, attacked the city, making the  Kingdom of Porto-Novo to accept French "protection." The neighboring Kingdom of Abomey objected to French involvement leading to war between the two states. In 1883, Porto-Novo was incorporated into the French "colony of Dahomey and its dependencies". In 1900 it became Dahomey's capital city. Dahomey gained independence from France in 1960 and became the People’s Republic of Benin in 1974.

Porto-Novo’s kings continued to rule in the city, both officially and unofficially, until the death of Alohinto Gbeffa, the last king, in 1976.  A number of Afro-Brazilians settled in Porto-Novo following their return to Africa after liberation from slavery in Brazil.

The city has several tourist attractions such as Porto Novo Museum of Ethnography which contains a large collection of Yoruba masks, as well as items on the history of the city and Benin. King Toffa's palace, now a museum, shows what life was like for African royalty. The da Silva Museum, a museum of Benin history, shows what life was like for the returning Afro-Brazilians.

Other interesting sites include a Brazilian-style church, which is now a mosque, and the Institute of Higher Studies of Benin. Stade Municipale and Stade Charles de Gaulle are the largest football stadiums in the city.

The city is not far from the cultural and historical living history town of Ouidah. It is also near Nigeria and Cotonou. Adjogan music is common in Porto-Novo. The music is played on an alounloun, a stick with metallic rings attached which jingle in time with the beating of the stick. The alounloun is said to descend from the staff of office of King Te-Agdanlin. It is played to honor the King and his ministers.


By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer

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