What You Didn’t Know About The Dahomey Warriors And Kingdom

Dahomey warrior
The Dahomey Kingdom warriors
The Dahomey Warriors (Photo Credit: BBC)

The official thriller for The Woman King has got everyone in awe and talking. However, this is particularly due to the fact that the movie is based on a real-life tribe in the Dahomey Kingdom. Perhaps, you are wondering if the Dahomey Warriors/Woman Kings and the Dahomey Kingdom are real. The answer is yes.

The Dahomey Kingdom has an interesting background you must know before watching the movie. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Prince-Bythewood, Dana Stevens, and Maria Bello, The Woman King has Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, John Boyega, and more as casts.

For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Kingdom of Dahomey was a significant regional power. The Kingdom had an organized domestic economy built on slave labor and conquest, a centralized administration, taxation systems, an organized military, significant international trade, and diplomatic relations with the Europeans. However, the major attraction to this kingdom was the all-female military unit called the Dahomey Amazon.

In 1958, French Dahomey became a self-governing colony called the Republic of Dahomey and gained complete independence in 1960. Subsequently, it was renamed the Peoples Republic of Benin in 1975 and later the Republic of Benin in 1991.

What made Dahomey Kingdom famous?

A black and white picture of the Dahomey warriors from the Dahomey Kingdom
Dahomey Warriors (Photo Credit: Afro-Punk)

For over 200 years, the Dahomey Kingdom was famous for its slave trade business. In Dahomey, many powerful kings in the Kingdom captured and sold enslaved people to British, Portuguese, and French merchants.

This made the Dahomey Kingdom the major Atlantic Slave trade center until 1852. Most enslaved people were women, men, and children from other tribes tied and jammed into boats bound for Haiti, Brazil, and the United States.

ALSO READ: 10 Formidable African Warrior Queens You Never Knew

The slave trade business in the Dahomey Kingdom was used to finance weapons for war. Dahomey traded enslaved people with the Europeans in return for weapons. Also, human trafficking became a norm in the Dahomey Kingdom as a means of survival.

The rise of the Dahomey kingdom

The Kingdom of Dahomey had existed since the 16th century until the Kingdom of Allada was thrown into a civil war. It was a war between 3 brothers, namely Kokpon, Te-Aagdalin, and Do-Aklin. Eventually, Kokpon won the battle and became King of Allada.

Te-Agdalinfled went into exile and founded the city called Port-Novo. Do-Aklin found refuge in the Abomey plateau and set up a city. From Do-Aklin, the Aladaxonu dynasty ruled over Abomey, strengthened, and expanded it. Eventually, they turned it into a kingdom, producing 12 Kings in Dahomey. The first of these kings was Wegbaja, who ruled from 1645 – 1685.

ALSO READ: 9 Highly Influential Post-Colonial African Kingdoms You Need to Know

His successor King Agaja continued the expansion of the Kingdom, marching an army that conquered the Kingdom of Allada in 1724 and the coastal city of Whydah in 1727. This opened the Kingdom to the Atlantic trade business.

The fall of Dahomey Kingdom

The decline of the Dahomey Kingdom came along with the abrogation of slavery. Great Britain abrogated the practice and later enforced it across the Atlantic. Since the Dahomey Kingdom lost its foreign market and source of wealth, King Gezu moved the kingdom’s economic focus to agricultural products such as palm oil production.

Between 1863 and1865, the European influence increased, which led to a soured relationship between the French and Dahomey. The power tussle climaxed in 1892 when King Behanzin of Dahomey (1889 – 1894) waged war against the French.

In 1892 King Behanzin was deposed, and France declared control over the Dahomey Kingdom. The Kingdom later transformed into a fully pledged French colony.

Other famous kingdoms with female warriors

Ancient African countries had many female warriors that were not just voluntary warriors but also rulers of their Kingdom. Ancient Africa took pride in the power and prowess of their female warriors.

For example, Queen Moremi from Ile-Ife was famous for her bravery in delivering the people of Ile-Ife from slavery. Also, Queen Makeda of Sheeba from Ethiopia was known for her victory over Serpent King Awre.

Queen Nandi of Zulu is another addition to this list. She was born in the year 1760 in Melmoth, South Africa. She was well-known as Shaka Zulu’s mother. According to history, she gave birth out of wedlock and was made to suffer a great deal of humiliation. You can read about other famous African warrior queens here.

Who are the Dahomey Warriors/Amazons?

Known as the Agoji, the Dahomey Amazon were all female military of the Dahomey Kingdom. They existed as warriors from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, referring to themselves as “Ahosi” (kings’ wife} or Mino {our mothers} in their Fon language.

The name “Dahomey Amazon” was given to them by the Europeans. The Ahosi were ferocious fighters, aggressive and well-trained.

The Dahomey Warriors emerged in the 17th century. Furthermore, the amazons were made up of military personnel assigned to help in battles under the Fon king’s direction.

The Dahomey Amazons had three important wings, consisting of the left and the right wing, and the elite wings [Fanti]. Each of the wings had five other subgroups; the elephant huntresses, the razor women, the archers, and the artillery women. They all took part in the battle with the female troops.

These women warriors were known to undergo extensive training. Some of the 18th-century warriors are known to use flintlock muskets and cannons. However, the 19th-century warriors used machine guns and other modern artillery.

In the year 1728, under the leadership of King Gezo, The Dahomey warriors formed part of the army that conquered the Whydah Kingdom.

The Franco-Dahomean war in the 18th century was the last major use of the Dahomey Amazons. The French were cold-hearted toward the Amazon warriors. They killed many of them to break the amazon warriors’ resistance to the control of the state by the French. Thereafter, the Dahomey Amazons were dissolved.

Interesting facts about the Dahomey kingdom

The Dahomey kingdom had a rich culture. Beyond the Dahomey Amazons, there are other interesting facts about the kingdom that many people don’t already know. We will highlight some of them below.

Slavery

The Dahomey kingdom was known for slave trade businesses. The proceed was used to finance wars. However, the slave trade business also served as a means of survival for the Dahomey kingdom.

Annual custom

Annually, a series of rites and celebrations were done in the king’s court in the Dahomey Kingdom, regardless of the religious diversity in the kingdom. The annual celebration is an important ceremony held to remember the ancestors of the kingdom’s royal clan.

Militarization

Due to constant warfare, the Dahomey people turned into a militarized society. Leaders of Dahomey expected both men and women to fight. Conscription from a population census provided the workforce for the military. Surprisingly, even wives of kings created military units in the Dahomey military.

Change in economic focus

Following the loss of the slave trade business, war and raiding became less attractive as men and women shifted their focus to maintaining their palm tree plantations. However, the loss of Dahomey’s power plunged when it failed to annex the neighboring Kingdom of Abeokuta.

Europeans Influence

Between 1863 and 1865, the European influence climaxed. When the French began to make their intention known by laying claim to Benin, they placed Port-Novo under its control by declaring the region their protectorate. The relationship between the French and Dahomey soured as both laid claims over the port of Cotonou between Port Novo and Quidah.

The collapse of Dahomey Kingdom

The power tussle between France and Dahomey reached its peak in 1892 when King Behanzin of Dahomey waged war against the French. The Dahomey army stood no chance against the prowess of the French military.

By 1894, King Behanzin was deposed, and France declared control over the Dahomey Kingdom. Later in 1904, Dahomey Kingdom became a fully pledged colony of the French empire.

Conclusion

The upcoming movie The Woman King will show the bravery of the Dahomey Warriors. Although, the storyline center on how the kingdom fought wars against enemies such as the French, British, and other African nations.

We will be anticipating to see how the movie will truthfully narrate the story bearing in mind that most movie directors often adulterate the facts when making movies. If you have seen the trailer of the upcoming movie, feel free to share your thoughts with us below.

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