By Jeremie Kathalay
Posted on January 14, 2022
The Amazonian warriors of West Africa known as the Dahomey Warriors, are one of the most fascinating and most intriguing parts of African history to this day. Not many people are familiar with the history of these amazing warriors. However, in recent years they have been represented in blockbuster films and other entertainment venues that give connection to their history. If the image of a warrior causes you to think of a man equipped with weapons and fighter-like attire, you may need to erase that from your mind completely. The Dahomey warriors were a group of all female trained fighters for the Kingdom of Dahomey.
The Kingdom of Dahomey was a monarchy as well, so the warriors would be assigned as royal bodyguards to those that would be in prestigious positions. The warriors were selected at a young age to live within the royal palace of the kingdom away from the rest of the people. Assuming this role of royal bodyguards and military fighters, having relations outside the walls would interfere with their duty to the kingdom. These positions were also specific only to women. The reason for this had to do with how the women warriors, or Amazons as the Europeans called them, would fight. The Dahomey warriors were exceptionally great at fighting compared to their male counterparts. They surpassed them in every way and were exceptionally effective in combat due to their intimidating and fearsome way of fighting. Another speculated origin of the warriors comes from a legend that is believed to tell the story of the Dahomey warriors’ true rise. It is said that a Queen by the name of Hangbe had become Queen early in the 18th century, after her twin brother had passed away. She ruled for a while, but was removed from her throne by her younger brother who believed that only men could have that power. Within her rule is where the Amazonian warriors came into fruition. They were deemed as her royal bodyguards as she ruled. With the power that they showcased throughout her reign, they continued to serve under the following rulers. It was also taken into consideration that due to the slave trade and men being taken away, women played a larger role in partaking of the duties that men once held.
In a very popular Marvel movie, Black Panther, we can see the inspiration that Dora Milajae, the all-women guards for the King of Wakanda got from the Dahomey warriors. The film displayed a clear statement of recognition, especially within African culture, that women held roles that some men could not even attain. This dismantled sexist ideologies and helped people recognize that the modern era was further back in their ways compared to how things used to be before our day and age. Though the accounts of Queen Hangbe are a legend and may not be entirely accurate, there are still descendants of hers that have and continue to speak for her and hold the title as Queen of the Amazons.
The Dahomey warriors were known to become well acquainted with the King. They had a nickname that they were called when appointed as guards in the royal palace called ahosi, which translates to third string wive. The warriors were married to the King when they became these warriors. However, it is not what some may suggest it to be. The Dahomey warriors were in fact celibate. They were not to be touched or looked at in any way and that went for all men, including the King himself. The repercussions for breaking that law would not be pleasant at all. The fear did not only reside within the kingdom, but outside of it as well. Europeans who would trample throughout Africa, claiming land and with violence and control, sought to take the Kingdom of Dahomey only to see the powerful ahosi. It came to a point that some tried diplomacy instead of force. Word spread of these women, and they became a force not to be played with. Their vigor and strength posed issues for many of the European countries that came to colonize. Even if they were successful, the ahosi were warriors until the very end.
There are still Dahomey warriors to this day, continuing in the culture and ceremonial practices. Though it is not as it used to be before, their strength is still considered to be feared and respected. As mentioned early, with the Black Panther film putting their name out to the world, brings an understanding of the powers that women held and continue to hold throughout the regions of Africa and other parts of the world despite the modern days.