The Woman King: Who Were The Real-Life Dahomey Amazons?

Viola Davis in ‘The Woman King’ | Sony Pictures

Who Were The Real-Life Dahomey Amazons?

  • The real-life Dahomey Amazons were frontline female soldiers in the army of the Kingdom of Dahomey, a West African empire that existed between the 1600s to early 1900s.
  • They were probably created because the number of women in the town started to dwarf the men, seriously, due to war loss and slave trade migration.
  • Queen Hangbe (ruling from 1708 to 1711) established the Amazons as a group of female royal bodyguards. Her brother and successor King Agaja usurped the throne from under her and erased all traces of her reign as he believed only men should hold the throne.
  • It was King Ghezo, who ruled over Dahomey from 1818 to 1858, who officially integrated the Amazons into the army. This in part was a practical decision, as manpower was increasingly scarce due to the European slave trade.
  • The Amazons were known for their fearlessness and were so named by the Europeans. Today, historians refer to them as mino, which can be translated as ‘our mothers’ in the local Fon language.
  • The Yoruba people of the Oyo Empire were as much their enemies as the Europeans were.
  • During a battle with French soldiers at Adegon on 6 October, during the second Franco-Dahomean War, the bulk of the Amazon corps was wiped out in a matter of hours in hand-to-hand combat after the French engaged them with a bayonet charge. The remainder of the troops were disbanded when the kingdom became a French protectorate.
  • The last survivor of the Dahomey Amazons is thought to have been a woman named Nawi. In a 1978 interview in the village of Kinta, a Beninese historian met Nawi, who claimed to have fought the French in 1892. Nawi died in November 1979, aged well over 100.

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