In the north, a plateau of fertile iron clay soil interspersed with marshy areas supports oil palms.
The central area is a wooded savanna with some hilly areas.
In 1990, the original flag was reestablished to symbolize the rejection of Marxist ideology. Although several ethnic groups are assumed to be indigenous, migration that began four hundred years ago brought Aja-speaking peoples (the Gbe) into the southern part of the country, where they founded several kingdoms.
The Yoruba presence in the southern and central regions also dates back several hundred years.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to make contact at Ouidah (Whydah) in 1580s; Dutch, French, and English traders followed.
The coastal communities became part of an emerging trans-Atlantic trading system.
It shares borders with Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Togo. In the south, coconut palms grow on a narrow coastal strip broken by lagoons and creeks.
Colonial rule forced the people to accept a new system of central administration, heavy taxation, forced labor, and harsh laws.
France conscripted men to fight in both world wars.
During this period, a triumvirate of leaders emerged who would dominate national politics for decades.
In 1958, Dahomey chose independence, which was declared in 1960. His term was interrupted by a military coup in 1963, the first of six in the next nine years. Political turmoil before and after independence was not conducive to the formation of a national identity.