Women Warrior Series: The Dahomey Amazons

Not long ago in West Africa, there was a warrior clan so fierce, so hardened and so unbelievably tough that it took the might of an industrialised nation just to slow them down. A cadre of soldiers that scanned the horizons and found not a single fuck to give for over two hundred years.

"Dahomey amazon2" by Unknown - ALPERN, Stanley B. Amazons of Black Sparta : The Women Warriors of Dahomey, London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. 2011. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Dahomey amazon2” by Unknown – ALPERN, Stanley B. Amazons of Black Sparta : The Women Warriors of Dahomey, London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. 2011. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

The origins of the Dahomey Amazons are contested, but general consensus is that they arose out of the King’s harem in 1645, turning into a bodyguard and eventually morphing into an elite killing force under King Agadja (1708-1740) . Their training would make a SEAL cry – running up barricades made of two-inch acacia thorns, survival training in forests for nine days with just a machete, and insensitivity training: the required slaughter of helpless prisoners of war in front of the community in annual ceremonies. They ran for brutally long distances, did live-fire exercises using prisoners of wars as moving targets and generally trained harder and longer than their male counterparts. Wielding two-handed, double-bladed machetes on staffs, clubs and old muskets, the Dahomey amazons became the frontline of the army, destroying armies twice as large. They crushed the Kingdom of Savi  and the Whydah people in 1727, then publicly executed 4,000 prisoners of war. They crushed the Allada. And for what might considered extra credit now, they captured Okeadon by sneaking over the walls at night and opening the gates, allowing the rest of the Amazons in for plenty of murderous fun.

And it was a good life for these women – not only did they escape the drudgery of household duties, but they had access to tobacco and alcohol, as well as many as 50 slaves. Strangers could not approach them on pain of death. In exchange, they trained and fought in battalions, two of which were called The Elephant Destroyers and The Reapers respectively.

Ref: Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans

Ref: Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans

After many, many decades of unsurpassed military prowess, the Dahomey Amazons finally met their match. It took seven weeks and twenty-three battles for the French to finally subdue these superbly skilled fighters, who had none of the ordinance but balls bigger than any other nation. They were praised by the French and English for their discipline, their skill and their toughness. This in spite of a Dahomey warrior decapitating a French governor, making his wife wrap his head in the tri-colour flag and bringing it home to the king.

Nearly all of them died in war, but…

Of the 4,000 Dahomey Amazons under King Behanzin’s command, nearly all of them were killed hurling themselves fearlessly into battle. Only 50 women survived, and most of them, awesomely enough, went to the United States and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. – Bad Ass of the Week

Read more:

The Badass of the Week: The Dahomey Amazons

The Smithsonian Magazine

Historical Museum of Abomey

Wiki: The Dahomey Amazons