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The Fascinating Story of the Greatest Women Warriors in History

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Read on to learn about the ruthless female Dahomey warriors who were highly trained and effective in combat.

Read on to learn about the ruthless female Dahomey warriors who were highly trained and effective in combat.

The Ruthless Women Army

This all-female army was so ruthless that European colonists called them the black Amazons after the legendary female warriors of Greek mythology.

Their brutal fierceness struck fear in the heart of Western troops and left their European colonizers shaking in their boots. The Europeans called them the Dahomey Amazons while the Africans called them "N’Nonmiton," which means “our mothers.”

They were an elite fighting force in the Kingdom of Dahomey (situated in the present-day Republic of Benin) whose job was to protect their king at any cost. Their forte was beheading and slitting throats swiftly.

Historical accounts of the Amazons are quite unreliable and sometimes even falsified, though several European slave traders, missionaries and colonialists recorded their encounters with the fearless women. At their peak, they were a force of 6,000, highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and proficient in knife and sword fighting.

They were ‘not-to-be-messed-with’ untouchables and even as enemies, Europeans begrudgingly regarded them as far superior to any male fighting force, in terms of effectiveness and bravery.

The Dahomey Amazons were an elite fighting force in the Kingdom of Dahomey (situated in the present-day Republic of Benin) whose job was to protect their king at any cost.

The Dahomey Amazons were an elite fighting force in the Kingdom of Dahomey (situated in the present-day Republic of Benin) whose job was to protect their king at any cost.

The Story of the Dahomey Warriors

The exact period when the Amazon force was created is unknown but some historians believe that the warriors are said to have been originally started by the third King of Dahomey, King Houegbadja who ruled from 1645-1685.

By the time his son King Agaja 1708-1732 came, the Amazons had established themselves as an elite group of bodyguards guarding the king against assassinations and attacks from neighboring kingdoms.

The initial Amazons were recruited from foreign captives but gradually this was expanded to include Dahomean women also. Although some were involuntarily enrolled due to pressure from their husbands or fathers, most of them voluntarily enrolled as it gave them a chance to escape lives of forced domestic drudgery.

The initial Amazons were recruited from foreign captives but gradually this was expanded to include Dahomean women also.

The initial Amazons were recruited from foreign captives but gradually this was expanded to include Dahomean women also.

Their Training Was Brutal

Once enrolled, the training and the rules were really brutal. The Dahomey Amazons were not allowed to have children or have any kind of family life, as they were formally married to the King. As a result, they remained celibate, although a select few were given off in marriage to respected dignitaries of the kingdom.

From the start, they were trained to be strong, fast and ruthless with the ability to withstand great pain. They trained intensely, often in hand-to-hand combat amongst themselves. Discipline was very much emphasized as they learned survival skills in the toughest of conditions.

The exercises to increase their resilience included doing unimaginable things like jumping over walls covered with thorny acacia branches, going on long 10-day “Hunger Games” expeditions in the jungle without supplies and the hardening of their stomachs to handle eating anything and everything for survival.

Failure was not an option for them as they were the last line of defense of the king and they proved themselves by making themselves twice as strong as men. It was either death or defeat for these girls. Retreat was not an option unless explicitly told by the king to do so.

The Dahomey Amazons were not allowed to have children or have any kind of family life, as they were formally married to the King.

The Dahomey Amazons were not allowed to have children or have any kind of family life, as they were formally married to the King.

They Got Special Privileges

And being part of the Dahomey Amazons gave the girls a lot of privileges also. It gave them the opportunity to “rise to positions of command and influence,” taking prominent roles in the Grand Council, that decided the policies for the kingdom.

They were also given unlimited supplies of every product, including alcohol and tobacco, and could also reside in the King’s palace after dark, something which even men were not allowed to do.

They were also given 50 slaves per person at their disposal and when they walked out of the palace it was quite an event. The European writer Stanley Alpern described this in his book “Amazons of Black Sparta”:

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“When Amazons walked out of the palace, they were preceded by a slave girl carrying a bell. The sound told every male to get out of their path, retire a certain distance, and look the other way.”

Their impact on Europeans can be gauged by the writings of Sir Richard Burton who had arrived in Dahomey on a mission for the British government, trying to make peace with the Dahomey people. On seeing the Dahomey Amazons, he wrote:

“Such was the size of the female skeleton and the muscular development of the frame that, in many cases, femininity could be detected only by the bosom.”

Their mercilessness and brutality were infamous, partly due to the fact that Europeans were accustomed to seeing only meek and subdued African women. The Dahomey Amazons were a different kettle of fish altogether for them.

Most of the Amazons died  in the The Second Franco-Dahomean War, led by General Alfred-Amédée Dodds in which the French emerged victorious.

Most of the Amazons died in the The Second Franco-Dahomean War, led by General Alfred-Amédée Dodds in which the French emerged victorious.

The End of the Amazons

France fought two bitter wars with the Kingdom of Dahomey from 1890 to 1894. The Second Franco-Dahomean War was led by General Alfred-Amédée Dodds, and the Kingdom of Dahomey under King Béhanzin.

The French emerged victorious in this war. Most of the Amazons died in this battle and the remaining were disbanded. The Dahomey Amazons, the most feared women warriors were forgotten and buried in the annals of history.

That said, the story of these women and the brave activities they engaged in display a side of womankind that is seldom seen or experienced. They were the perfect example of gender equality and prove that a woman (if she wants to) can even surpass the best of her male counterparts in any activity.

Their fierce independence and stupendous strength make for one of the most glorious examples of women's empowerment still to this day.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 17, 2021:

Thanks Centfie

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 17, 2021:

That I agree.

Centfie from Kenya on October 17, 2021:

Indeed, fascinating stories of women in the past. What an in-depth article!

Cynthia from Philippines on October 16, 2021:

thank you for sharing your article.It is very interesting

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 16, 2021:

Thanks Vidya

VIDYA D SAGAR on October 16, 2021:

A fascinating and interesting article Ravi. This story is a true example of women empowerment. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 15, 2021:

Thanks Louise

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 15, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 15, 2021:

Thanks Chittangada

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 15, 2021:

That was fascinating and very interesting to read, Ravi. This is something I didn't know about!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 15, 2021:

ravi, thank you. I took a class in this history.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 15, 2021:

Great informative article about these women warriors. I wasn’t aware of this part of history.

Thank you for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 15, 2021:

Thanks Umesh

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 15, 2021:

Fascinating article. Well written.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 15, 2021:

Thanks John

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 15, 2021:

This was an enthralling article. I enjoyed reading about these Dahorney Amazons. Thank you for sharing this, Ravi.

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