Home African Caribbean Women of strength: Dahomey Amazons
Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow Massay

Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow-Massay

Community news. Societies where women exercised political power, which produced female warriors, and female lines of descent are a continuing theme in African history and in some cultures have survived into modern times.

Such is the case among the Akan of Ghana, whose mythology attributes the beginning of their society to a mother figure and who still adheres to the matrilineal societal structure.

Their social order functions around female bloodlines and within that structure, wealth, inheritance, and socio-political structures are all determined.

Another aspect of the female warrior tradition, which has dominated African society, is that of the Dahomey Amazons. The Mino or Dahomey Amazons were an all female regiment. Their origins began in the 1600s when Oba (King) Wegbaja recruited them as elephant hunters. Later, they served under the Fon kings, in what is now Benin. These elite female soldiers served as members of the palace guards and engaged in warfare.

Mino, in the Fon language means mother, yet once recruited, women were to remain celibate and could not marry or have children. Although considered wives of the Oba, he never had sexual relations with them because they were considered “third class wives” and not beautiful enough for him. Nonetheless, any man who defiled one of these warrior-wives was executed along with the woman.

Dahomey Amazon woman Photo courtesy wwwonesixthwarriorscom

Dahomey Amazon woman. Photo courtesy www.onesixthwarriors.com

The Dahomey Amazons were divided into three main wings. Each wing was divided into five subgroups, consisting of: archers, razor-carrying women, artillery, elephant hunters, and those armed with guns and cannons.  Female officers commanded each infantry and the women soldiers trained rigorously as they were fiercely competitive with the male troops. Their fighting motto was “Conquer or Die” and they were renowned for never beating a retreat.

In addition to their military duties, the Mino also had domestic tasks within the royal household that included assisting in the production of palm oil, sewing, embroidering, dyeing, weaving and selling mats in an exclusively female market located within the palace. They also reenacted battles at ceremonial court functions, and were praise singers, declaring their loyalty to the Oba.

Some volunteered to get away from impending arranged marriages, to escape poverty, or to seek glory on the battlefield. A father could enroll a rebellious daughter or one that was more suited to fighting than motherhood.

The Dahomey Amazons fought many territorial battles and conquered many tribes living in the surrounding areas. They were renowned for their ferocity and cruelty in battle, often decapitating the heads of their captives or throwing them from high precipices to a baying mob below.



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