In Praise of the Panther King: A Eulogy to de Kpoto-Zounme HAKPON III, King of Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin

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Hawé, Hawé, Hawé.  The King has traveled to Allada!! A great tree has fallen in the forest!! 

“Family, family, family, when great trees fall,” and “rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses… even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear” (“When Great Trees Fall, Rocks on Distant Hills Shudder,” Poet Maya Angelou Remembers Jazz Pioneer Max Roach).

Family, today, we mourn the departure of the Great Leopard King, Hawé, Hawé, Hawé! De Kpoto-Zounme HAKPON III. Today, I sing a praise-song for one whose “wisdom outweighed his strength.” For I say, in the name of my brothers and sisters in America, we children of the Diaspora who knew him and loved him, know that it is good to love a king, but it is better when a king loves you. So we are like Maya Angelou’s “rocks that shudder on a distant hill”… our ”senses eroded into silence” at that great falling.

Yes, His Majesty loved his “children in the Diaspora,” as he called us, and he came to America twice to let us know that - in 2008 and 2013. He did not come just to visit and see the tourist sites. He shared with us his great sorrow and apology for the role that his ancestors played in the wretched thief of Africa’s children from their mother and their subsequent torture and abuse under the chains of enslavement. He spoke those words to the Black Caucus of the Massachusetts Legislature, in the Council chambers of the City Boston, to the people of Alabama -battle-ground of Dr. King’s fight for Civil Rights - to Universities in Boston, to churches, and to gatherings of youth and elders of the communities. In coming to America, His Majesty enriched the lives of the young and old, especially the lives of black boys and girls in the US who were fortunate enough to meet him. His presence confirmed for them that, indeed, there were kings in Africa and they still exist today, and for his grace and magnanimity, we are eternally grateful.

His Majesty, King Kpoto-Zounme HAKPON III was a unique monarch, an activist  with a broad vision of the global implications of Africa’s richness and the potential impact of a sitting king to effect change at home and abroad. He was dedicated to sustainable development, to preservation and revalorization of Béninese and Africa’s traditional culture and heritage as well as to sustainable development at the socio-economic levels.  He was particularly committed to the youth and their educational and cultural development. Thus, he gave his support to our many service learning programs and internship projects, which brought university students from the United States to teach English language classes, digital documentation, and media technology training to local school children in the Porto-Novo area.

Further, he lent his support and sanctioned the efforts of our international NGO (Hope for Africa) and other local NGO’s in facilitating workshops and awareness activities around HIV AIDs and the importance of education for young people. His majesty was a major supporter and advocate for the International Conference on “Returning to Source: Reparative Justice for the Enslavement of Afrikan Peoples,” which was organized by the International Network of Scholars and Activists for African Reparations (INOSAAR) and held at the Musée da Silva in Porto-Novo in 2018. On behalf of the High Council of Kings of Bénin, His Majesty signed the historic “Porto-Novo Declaration,” which calls on African governments to support the international movement for reparations, repair and healing for the inhumanity suffered by African descended people both on the African continent and in its Diaspora.

And so it is that in praising the Leopard King, we will celebrate his life, and “say not in grief that he is no more, but live in thankfulness that he was.” We will remember that great men must take their leave of us but not the force of their being. We will remember that, “There is no light without a dawning/No winter without spring” and that “those who leave us for a while/Have only gone away…” (Helen Steiner Rice). “When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence,” says Maya Angelou, yet “nothing but our sadness can really pass away.” And so we embrace the memory of a Great King, Kpoto-Zounme HAKPON III, Hawé, Hawé, Hawé, and think of him as being “in the tree that rustles/in the thickening shadow/in the water that sleeps/ in the firebrand that flames…” (Birago Diop. “Those who are Dead are Never Gone”); for he will be eternally in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched. Asé, Asé, Asé, O.

Written by Professor Joyce Hope Scott, North American Representative of King Kpoto-Zoumme HAKPON III, Co-Founder of the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations (INOSAAR), Clinical Professor of African American Studies Boston University, Massachusetts, USA.