Warriors of Dahomey
The Warriors of Dahomey (also known as the Dahomey Mino or Agojie in Fon) were an all-female military unit in the Kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin). They rose to prominence because of their unique standing as an army of female fighters for the powerful African kingdom of Dahomey. Western observers also referred to the Mino as “Amazons” due to their resemblance to the mythical Amazons of Ancient Greece. The warriors’ status as powerful women in the patriarchal society of Dahomey continues to inspire popular culture and carries an important historical legacy.
Origins and history
Despite competing narratives about the unit’s origins, the most prevailing argues that it was established as a female bodyguard regiment during Queen Hangbe’s reign from 1716 to 1718 in the Dahomey Kingdom. The Queen Hangbe’s successor, Agaja, employed the female warriors to capture the neighboring kingdom of Ouidah in 1727. The 18th century marked a period of frequent warfare with neighboring states in which Dahomey emerged as a major participant in the transatlantic slave trade. King Ghezo’s reign of the kingdom from 1818 to 1858 marked Dahomey’s golden era of economic and political strength enabled by the kingdom’s military prowess, and the economic exploitation of slaves. This era was particularly militaristic with an increasing budget and up to 6,000 female warriors (a third of the Dahomey army).In 1890 and from 1892 to 1894, Dahomey’s King Béhanzin deployed the Mino in the First and Second Franco-Dahomean War. However, military defeat by the French crushed the Mino and resulted in the end of the Dahomey Kingdom. The Dahomey Mino were officially disbanded when the kingdom became a French protectorate in 1894.
Recruitment strategies for the Dahomey Mino were diverse. Some women saw joining the military as an alternative to escape poverty. Conversely, fathers could send their daughters to become a warrior if they were not considered apt for motherhood as the Mino were not allowed to fall pregnant.The Mino were especially known for their hand-to-hand combat using bow and arrow or machetes. However, each regiment of Dahomey Mino used different weapons and wore distinctive uniforms. Additionally, their uniforms were almost identical to their fellow male fighters making a distinction only possible in close combat. Three white stripes around the warriors’ legs were markers of military distinction. Apart from their military function, the Mino were also members in Dahomey’s Grand Council that discussed the kingdom’s policies. Therefore, becoming a female warrior also provided opportunities to rise to powerful positions in the kingdom and acquire wealth.
The Dahomey Mino have become an important historical reference that has been picked up by films, novels, and other creative work. Bernadine Evaristo’s 2019 novel “Girl, Woman, Other” (United Kingdom) refers to a play called “The Last Amazon of Dahomey” in its opening. The science fiction action film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022, United States) centers a feminist perspective by showcasing Mino-inspired female warriors. The historical epic action film “The Women King” (2022, the United States) depicted the Dahomey Mino in the 1820s more explicitly. While the film was inspired by historical events, it was called out for historical inaccuracy, especially regarding the Mino as anti-slavery warriors. This issue also calls into question the overall depiction and historical knowledge about the Dahomey Mino. Therefore, the warriors’ cultural depictions and unique legacy must be interrogated with a holistic understanding of their complexity.