Alfred Sketcherly left England in 1871 for the purpose of making zoological collections on the West Coast of Africa. On his arrival at Whydah he was induced to go up to Abomey, the capital of Dahomey, for the purpose of instructing the king, Gelele, in the use of some guns that had arrived, on the promise that he would be back at Whydah in eight days. The king, however, detained Mr. Skertchly as an unwilling guest for eight months, treating him with the greatest consideration and kindness, and creating him a prince of the country.

The greater part of Mr. Skertchly's work is occupied with a description of the protracted annual "customs," as they are called, of Dahomey, which consist of elaborate and harmless trivial ceremonies, mixed up with much that is revolting and cruel; the details of these Mr. Skertchly describes in minute and often tiresome detail. We do not think there was any need for Mr. Skertchly making so large a book on what he saw, especially as the Dahomans and their "customs" are pretty well known through previous travelers.

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He often questions the accuracy of Burton, who is quite able to defend himself if he feels aggrieved at Mr. Skertchly's criticisms. The author succeeded, during his stay at Abomey, in doing but little in the way of collecting, and in this work there is scarcely any details as to the natural history of the country. He has evidently a considerable admiration both for the Dahomans and Ashantees, especially for the former, whom he considers not nearly so cruel as the latter, though both equally brave and remarkably well-disciplined as soldiers.

In a short Appendix on the Ashantees, he prophecies that our recent expedition to the Gold Coast would find them formidable enemies, which prophecy can hardly be said to have been fulfilled. He defends the Dahomans from the charge of intentional cruelty in the barbarously performed human sacrifices which form so important a part of their customs, and we think he succeeds; the victims, who are all either criminals, or prisoners of war, are sent as messengers to deceased kings. The work is illustrated with a number of gorgeously colored plates, which no doubt show faithfully the dresses and manners of the people, though some of the pictures which exhibit the method of sacrificing the human victims are simply revolting, and ought to have been confined to the author's portfolio.


Nature Volume 9, page 460 (1874)

Publisher: London : Chapman and Hall



ISBN-10: N/A

Date Added: 2019-03-02

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Map Name
Dahomey As It Is - A Map of Dahomey with Part of Ashanti (1874)

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