King Behanzin’s Brother in the Foreign Legion

Well, not quite as flamboyant as the Kaiser’s illegitimate son or a mysterious Russian prince, this article discusses the unusual presence of the brother of King Behanzin of Dahomey in the French Foreign Legion.  King Behanzin was the ruler of Dahomey (modern day Benin) and fought against the French for two tough years from 1892-1894.  His forces (which included several hundred ruthless, fanatically loyal, amazon warriors) was a well armed and disciplined force but eventually King Behanzin surrendered to the French after his forces were beaten in combat, his capital fell and the French chose his other brother, Goutchili, as king.  Behanzin was allowed to leave for exile to the Martinique Islands and later to Algeria.  He died 10 December 1906.  This article (found on Gallica) was written shortly after his death and was featured in the December 1906 edition of L’Illustration Algérienne, Tunisienne et Marocaine (on the cover no less) and begins with Caporal Koulery of the 26th Company (Mounted) of the 2nd Regiment at Saida, showing up at the villa where his brother has lived his last years in exile (probably in Blida, Algeria).  He explains to the servants that he has learned that his brother has passed away and he wants to pay his respects.  He waits for some time for the gate-keepers of the house to come and let him in but it was determined by them that he must be lying about being the king’s brother and he was told to hit the road.  He eventually left and went to a reporter where he was able to discuss his past and sort of declare his legitimacy.  He was born in the royal Dahoman city of Abomey in 1875.  His monther was known as Ouzigane.  At age eleven he left (for exile) and he must have joined the Legion when he was around 17/18 years old (17 July 1892) and eventually fought against his father’s forces in Dahomey and for France in Madagascar and southern Algeria.  He was awarded the Colonial medal and medals for the Dahomey and Madagascar campaigns. This is about where my French sputters out–Apparently his nephew (the king’s son) is the one who refused to accept him and ordered him turned away and the legionnaire tells the reporter that the Minister of War seems to think he is who he says he is and that he earned his medals with a bayonet.  The reporter lets the reader to decide for himself but presents compelling evidence with the photographs of his livret militaire and a picture of him in the uniform of the Foreign Legion.  It seems young snot in the house (probably Prince Koulery Ouibro) eventually became the king some years later.  An interesting tidbit of Legion history–I only wish they explained more about how he came to join the Legion.  Was his exile in France? Algeria?  His picture in the article would have been taken in 1906 and this would have made him a 16 year veteran of the Legion.  That’s a remarkable achievement in any case.

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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