Critical Overview: The Dahomey kingdom existed in West Africa from 1625 to 1894 and was situated in the present-day nation of Benin. It was renowned for the all-female army, the Dahomey Amazons, who were fearless frontline soldiers. Legends surrounding Queen Hangbe, a possible ancestor of the Dahomey Amazons, indicate that the corps of elite female warriors was created to serve as royal bodyguards to the queen and the kings who followed. European traders, colonialists, and missionaries recorded several instances of the Amazons’ fearlessness, but historical accounts of their reign remain unreliable. The women-only corps was officially integrated into the army by King Ghezo in the 19th Century to counterbalance the shortage of manpower due to the European slave trade.
The Dora Milaje in Black Panther: In the 2018 Marvel movie Black Panther, actors Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan received accolades for their performances. The real stars of the movie, however, were the Dora Milaje, the female bodyguards of the fictional Kingdom of Wakanda. The women were fierce yet principled and provided the movie’s moral compass. The inspiration for the Dora Milaje stems from the Dahomey Amazons, whose descendants continue to uphold their legacy.
The Audience with Dahomian Royalty: In the former capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey, Abomey, Rubinelle, a 24-year-old secretary, spoke about her grandmother, a descendant of Queen Hangbe, who is the living embodiment of the Dahomey royalty. The elderly woman has inherited her name and authority, and four Amazons attend to her. Rubinelle and her grandmother spoke about the legends surrounding the reign of Queen Hangbe and the Amazons, and some historians question whether the queen ever existed.
The Legacy of the Mighty Female Soldiers: In Dahomey society, men had a female equivalent in all institutions, political, religious, and military, as the society had a duality embedded in its religion. The Amazons were officially recognized as soldiers of the kingdom during the reign of King Ghezo, which further strengthened this duality. Leonard Wantchekon, a professor of politics at Princeton University and the founder of the African School of Economics in Cotonou, claims that the term ‘mino’ in the local Fon language does not accurately reflect the role the Amazons played in Dahomey society and instead means ‘witch.’
Conclusion: The Dahomey Amazons were an all-female army of fearless frontline soldiers who served as royal bodyguards in the Kingdom of Dahomey. The women-only corps was officially integrated into the army in the 19th Century and played a crucial role in countering the shortage of manpower due to the European slave trade. While historical accounts of their reign remain unreliable, several European traders, colonialists, and missionaries recorded their encounters with the Amazons’ fearlessness. Legends surrounding Queen Hangbe suggest that she may have been the founder of the Amazons, and her descendants still keep their traditions alive. The Dahomey society had a duality embedded in its religion, and the Amazons were officially recognized as soldiers of the kingdom during the reign of King Ghezo. The term ‘mino’ in the local Fon language, which is used to refer to the Dahomey Amazons, means ‘our mothers,’ and Leonard Wantchekon claims that it does not accurately reflect the role the warriors played in Dahomey society.