By Melville Jean Herskovits
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Under the old regime, every dignitary had a number of plantations and was therefore one of the gletanu. Yet in the main the cultivators of large areas were, and still are, men who live on their farms, tilling them with the aid of their families and, in former times, of their slaves—men who rarely come to the centers where the great markets are held, and all of whose life is given to hard work. These men belong to the great Dahomean middle class, and in the preconquest days, if their families were not large they acquired slaves or pawns to help them.
An important reason why the palm-tree enjoys this preferred ownership status is that six years must elapse before a tree matures, and during this time a certain amount of care must be given it. Once matured, however, a tree calls for little attention, bearing its kernels twice a year. The larger harvest is during the period between November and March, the smaller one between July and September. The fruit in which the kernels are contained is sold, for the actual pressing of the kernels and manufacture of the oil is a specialised technique, and even an owner of many palm-trees will buy what oil he needs for his personal use.
Agricultural produce yields the greatest proportion of Dahomean foodstuffs, while the raising of animals to provide meat is only of secondary importance. The major portion of the territory occupied by the kingdom lies south of the open country inhabited by pastoral peoples, for though the northern edge of the coastal forested belt is not far from the city of Abomey, the traditions which give agriculture primary importance stretch on well into the open prairie-like country occupied, since the earliest times of European contact, by the Maxi.