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April 17, 2012

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A Short History Of Akaba Idéna

Posted by Thierry Joffroy, CRAterre-ENSAG
The magic entry, is protected by hidden amulets
The magic entry is protected by hidden amulets

The oral traditions of Kétou say that Prince Shopashan left Ile-Ife (the capital of the Yoruba Kingdom) with his family and other members of his clan to install a new kingdom at Aro. A few generations later, his descendant, King Ede, left Aro with 120 families to settle in Kétou.

To protect themselves from possible attacks the site was fortified with layers of structures increasing in height. In the late eighteenth century these defenses helped repel multiple attacks from the Kingdom of Abomey. The defensive system consisted of a combination of walls and moats filled with water in the rainy season, and a single monumental door. This walled enclosure withstood many assaults from the kings of Abomey, but the city was taken in 1886 and subsequently looted and destroyed. Taking advantage of the arrival of the French army who had weakened the Kingdom of Abomey, the enclosure and door was rebuilt in 1894 under the leadership of King Oyingin. From this last reconstruction effort, the large entrance gate to the city of Kétou, Akaba Idéna, remains today with a few hundred meters of the enclosure and moat.

Akaba Idéna is a monumental building—breathtaking when coming from the outside along the moat. The entry gate is equipped with two doors to allow for control at both sides. The two doors are situated on opposite sides, separated by a chicane path. In the center stands a large court surrounded by a veranda with carved and painted pillars. Above the external entry, a room houses amulets and the protective fetishes of the city. Still today, passage through this gateway is a very important ceremonial act.

The property was fully restored in 1985 and remains in relatively good condition. But it is threatened by the risk of flood, something that has become more common since the construction of a nearby road that partially blocks the circulation of water in the moat, which has also been partly backfilled due to erosion and droppings. The huge roof is also beginning to show signs of weakness. The thatch that covered the corrugated iron has disappeared and the sticks that were supporting it are rotting, with risks now to the metal sheets themselves.

In today’s socio-economic situation, it has become more and more difficult for the King of Kétou to mobilize the population. There is still some goodwill on the part of some of his people, but there is a need for funds to undertake maintenance. This is done on quite regular basis, however not as we actually desire. Two years ago, a severe tornado affected the area. While the building was not affected, several trees nearby were damaged, blocking entry and making the situation even more difficult.

It is for all these reasons that Akaba Idéna has been inscribed on the 2012 World Monument Watch. The opportunity is at hand to assist the King of Kétou, the municipality, and the Government of Benin to protect, conserve, and further raise awareness of its significance and integrate its presentation within the historic landscape of the city that comprises many other interesting assets.

Overall view of the outside entry

Trees have fallen during the 2010 tornado

Internal courtyard with its veranda and decorated wooden columns

The king of Ketou, sitting on his throne, March 26, 2012

Provision of a temporary shelter above the “Legba” protecting the internal door, March 26, 2012