Bight of Benin

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Bight of Benin
Gulf of Guinea map showing the Bight of Benin.
Bight of Benin is located in Nigeria
Bight of Benin
Bight of Benin
Coordinates5°00′N 2°06′E / 5.0°N 2.1°E / 5.0; 2.1
Native nameGolfe du Bénin (French)
River sourcesNiger
Ocean/sea sourcesGulf of Guinea
Atlantic Ocean
Basin countriesGhana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria
Max. length300 km (190 mi)
Max. width640 km (400 mi)

The Bight of Benin or Bay of Benin is a bight in the Gulf of Guinea area on the western African coast that derives its name from the historical Kingdom of Benin.


It extends eastward for about 640 kilometres (400 mi) from Cape St. Paul to the Nun outlet of the Niger River. To the east it continues by the Bight of Bonny (formerly Bight of Biafra). The bight was named after the Kingdom of Benin.[1]

Historical associations with the Atlantic slave trade led to the region becoming known as the Slave Coast. As in many other regions across Africa, powerful indigenous kingdoms along the Bight of Benin relied heavily on a long established slave trade that expanded greatly after the arrival of European powers and became a global trade with the colonization of the Americas.[2] Estimates from the 1640s suggest that Benin (Beneh) took in 1200 slaves a year. Restrictions made it hard for slave volume to grow until new states and different routes began to make an increase in slave trade possible.[3]

Cultural references[edit]

The coast of Benin with Cotonou port in the background

The Bight of Benin has a long association with slavery, its shore being known as the Slave Coast. From 1807 onwards—after slave trading was made illegal for Britons—the Royal Navy created the West Africa Squadron in order to suppress and crush the slave trade. These efforts were magnified after 1833, when slave trading was made illegal throughout the British Empire. These efforts would continue until the 1890s, and cost Britain significant sums of money, and the Royal Navy hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors’ lives from tropical diseases.

The old Royal Navy rhyme says:

Beware, beware the Bight of the Benin, for few come out though many go in.

A variation goes:

Beware beware, the Bight of Benin: one comes out, where fifty went in!

This is said to be a slavery jingle or sea shanty about the risk of malaria in the Bight.[4] A third version of the couplet is:

Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin. There's one comes out for forty goes in."[5]

In R. Austin Freeman's 1927 novel A Certain Dr. Thorndyke, Chapter II, "The Legatee," mention is made of this location. The scene is the Gold Coast colony in Africa where the character Larkom asks, "How does the old mariners' ditty run? You remember it. 'Oh, the Bight of Benin, the Bight of Benin, One comes out where three go in.'" Life expectancy was short in this locale due to the prevalence of Blackwater fever.

The author Philip McCutchan has written a book titled Beware, beware the Bight of Benin.

A short story by Elizabeth Coatsworth, "The Forgotten Island" (1942), deals with a treasure from Benin. A variation of the rhyme is also mentioned.[6]

Flash For Freedom!, George MacDonald Fraser's 1971 picaresque novel of Harry Flashman's misadventures in—among other places and situations—an English stately home, the 1840s slave trade, antebellum plantation life, and meeting with then-congressman Abraham Lincoln, quotes another variant of the couplet:

Oh, sailor beware of the Bight o' Benin.

There's one as comes out for a hundred goes in.

In Patrick O'Brian's novel The Commodore (1996), Dr. Maturin recites the rhyme when he learns of his ship's destination. Commodore Aubrey checks him, telling him it is bad luck to say that out loud on the way in.

The rhyme is also partially quoted in chapter Context(6) of John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar. The Bight of Benin (as well as the fictional republic of Beninia) is mentioned throughout the novel.

David Bramhall's series of novels "The Greatest Cape" also mentions the rhyme, one of the characters in the first volume, The Black Joke, having been a pirate and a slaver.

In 2007, a collection of short stories entitled The Bight of Benin: Short Fiction by Kelly J. Morris was published by The stories are set in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.


On 1 February 1852 the British established the Bight of Benin British protectorate, under the authority of Consuls of the Bight of Benin: the republic of Benin and Bight of Benin were named after the Kingdom of Benin extending eastward from Cape St. Paul to the Nun outlet of River Niger.

Term Protectorate
May 1852 – 1853 Louis Fraser
1853 – April 1859 Benjamin Campbell
April 1859 – 1860 George Brand
1860 – January 1861 Henry Hand
January 1861 – May 1861 Henry Grant Foote
May 1861 – 6 August 1861 William McCoskry (acting)

On 6 August 1861 the Bight of Biafra protectorate and Bight of Benin protectorate were joined as a united British protectorate, ultimately to be merged into Nigeria.

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ "Bight of Benin | bay, Atlantic Ocean | Britannica". Archived from the original on 2021-11-09. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  2. ^ Edward Brynn, Slavery in the Sahel Archived 2013-01-28 at the Wayback Machine, University of North Carolina
  3. ^ Transformations in Slavery, Lovejoy 1983, Pg. 54
  4. ^ McKie, Robin (2001-12-02). "Bark for the bite". Archived from the original on 2014-05-09. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  5. ^ Fiammetta, Rocco (2003). The Miraculous Fever-tree: Malaria and the Quest for a Cure that Changed the World. HarperCollins. p. 156. ISBN 0-06-019951-2. Archived from the original on 2022-02-12. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  6. ^ Hitchcock, Alfred (1961). Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful. New York: Random House. p. 83. ISBN 0-394-81224-7.