Many people in Togo and Benin speak one of about 20 related Gbe languages. Linguistic evidence indicates that most of the Gbe people came from the east in several migrations between the 10th and 15th centuries. The Gbe were pushed westward during a series of wars with the Yoruba people of Nigeria, then settled in Tado on the Mono River (in present-day Togo).
Around 1600, Fon emigrants from Tado established the Kingdom of Dahomey, a Fon monarchy that ruled Benin for some 300 years. Its standing army, an aggressive economic model that relied on slavery for export and labor, and its “Amazon” warriors (elite troops of fierce, female combat soldiers) made the Kingdom of Dahomey a powerful regional threat. It was also the top trading partner with the Europeans. Other contemporary kingdoms in Benin included Porto-Novo, as well as smaller northern states. In Togo, the Kabye and Lamba (or Lama) peoples migrated to the north between 600 and 1200 A.D. Many other groups who settled in Togo were refugees of wars in Dahomey and what is now Ghana.
European slave traders first became a force on the coast of West Africa. By 1475 Portuguese traders had reached the Bight of Benin, and by the mid-1500s Spain and England had also legalized the slave trade. As the demand for slaves grew, the Kingdom of Dahomey (and others in the region) provided European traders with a constant supply in exchange for goods and firearms. Dahomey, which had long paid tribute to the Yoruba Empire of Oyo, used its new weapons and power to throw off that yoke.
More than 2 million slaves were sent from the Bight of Benin to the New World, and among them were many from Benin and Togo’s major ethnic groups. The Adja, Mina, Ewe and Fon groups of this region were the third-most enslaved groups sent to the New World. A great number of these went to Haiti and Brazil, where they established their traditional religious practices and ancestor worship, better known today as Voodoo, Santería or Macumba.
With the end of slavery, the Kingdom of Dahomey lost its revenue source and began an economic decline. The French defeated Dahomey in a series of wars between 1890 and 1894, and eventually, both Benin and Togo (minus an area under British control) became part of French West Africa. One result of the French colonial period was that, in many cases, French West Africans had certain citizenship or other rights under French law; over time, African communities sprang up in France and other parts of Europe. In 1960, both Benin and Togo declared independence.