This article traces chronologically the rise and fall of the office of the kpojito, the female reign-mate to the kings of Dahomey. The women who became kpojito in the eighteenth century were central to the efforts of the kings to establish legitimacy and assert control over the kingdom's expanding territory. The office reached its zenith in mid-century when Kpojito Hwanjile and King Tegbesu gained office and effectively ruled in tandem, thereby solidifying an ideological model that persisted to the end of the kingdom. The model posited a balance of power between male and female, royal and commoner. Subsequently, powerful women of the king's household worked with ambitious princes to build coalitions to seize power at times of royal succession. When their efforts succeeded, the prince was installed as king and the woman as kpojito. By the nineteenth century, princes began to find alternative sources of support in their struggles for the kingship and alternative sources of guidance once enthroned. The royal family became more central in the state as princes and princesses replaced commoners in high offices. Even though alliances between princes and their fathers' wives continued, non-royal women within the palace were more constrained in their ability to wield power and the influence of the kpojito fell into steep decline.
The institutional history of the kpojito is discerned through an analysis of religious change in Dahomey. Because the hierarchy of the gods was manipulated by the monarchy to reflect its changing conceptions of the nature of power, the history of religion represents an intellectual history of the ruling class. Central among the religious changes and cultural influences that had a probable impact on the office of the kpojito, and more broadly on the ability of women to exercise power in the state, were contacts with Europe and with Yoruba-speaking peoples. Those influences were associated with cultural and religious visions that promoted the individual, the male, and the royal.