The Vicariate Apostolic of Dahomey, in West Africa, is territorially identical with the French colony of the same name. This colony has a coastline of about 75 miles on the Slave Coast of the Gulf of Guinea, whence it stretches northwards to the French Sudan ; it is bounded on the east by the British territory of Lagos and the River Ocpara, and on the west by the German territory of Togo and the river Mono. Its area is estimated at about 59,000 square miles, and its total population in 1902 was probably a little less than half a million. The chief exports of the colony are palm kernels and palm-oil. Its indigenous population is of the pure Negro stock, chiefly of the Fon subdivision of the Ewe family. About the year 1728 the territory now known as Dahomey was subject to three native dynasties, one of which at that date conquered the other two and set up its own despotism under the present territorial designation. This despotism, tempered only by the fear inspired by Fetishism, of which Dahomey was said to be the last extant stronghold at the end of the nineteenth century, ended with the capture and exile of King Behanzim by a French military expedition in 1892.
The Faith was first preached in Dahomey in the year 1660, when certain French residents introduced Franciscan missionaries. Against this Catholic enterprise the English adventurers successfully combined with native priests of Fetishism. In 1674 Father Gonsalvez, a Dominican, with two companions, was poisoned; an Augustinian, who visited the coast in 1699, escaped death by flight. No further attempt to plant the Faith in Dahomey is recorded until 1860, when Fathers Borghero and Fernandez, of the then newly founded Lyons Society of African Missions, arrived. Their institute has carried on the work ever since. The French Government, in 1864, obtained in behalf of the missionaries a large territorial concession at Porto Novo, where a flourishing station was soon established. The mission of Agwe, now one of the most flourishing in the vicariate, began its existence in 1874.
The first erection of a Vicariate Apostolic of Dahomey was in 1860, when its jurisdiction was defined to include all the country between the Rivers Niger and Volta. In 1870, however, the title of this vicariate was changed to "The Benin Coasts"; and in 1882 it was divided, the region west of the River Ocpara being then erected into the Prefecture Apostolic of Dahomey, from which, again, the German territory of Togo was ecclesiastically separated in 1892, and the adjacent British possessions in 1894. By decree dated 22 April, 1901, this prefecture of Dahomey was erected into the present Vicariate Apostolic of that name, which is thus seen to differ territorially from that erected in 1860.
The residence of the vicar Apostolic is at the coast town of Whydah, formerly the native capital and a notorious centre of Dahomeyan Fetishism. "Missiones Catholicae" (1907), the official triennial handbook of the Propaganda, gives the following statistics of Dahomey: Total Catholic population, 8900; missionary stations, 6; churches with resident pastor, 4; chapels, 11; total number of priests, 32; catechists, 15; houses of religious women (Sisters of the Queen of the Apostles ), 4, with an aggregate of 20 religious; schools for boys, 13 with 1330 pupils; schools for girls, 4, with 480 pupils.
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