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The Amazons

 


The Amazon army corps, made up of female warriors, is said to have been established by King Agadja (1708-1740). His father, King Houégbadja, had already created a detachment of "elephant huntresses" who were also bodyguards. But Agadja made them into real warriors.

Former amazons - Click to enlarge  
 Former amazons. Postcard, c. 1920
 Click to enlarge
E. Chaudoin in "Three months in captivity in Dahomey" describes them as follows in 1891:

"There they are, 4,000 warriors, the 4,000 black virgins of Dahomey, the monarch's bodyguard, motionless in their war garments, with gun and knife in hand, ready to leap forward at the master's signal.

Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to look at. They are as well built as the male warriors and their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, lined up as though against a rope".


According to A. Djivo, in "Guézo, the renovation of Dahomey", some of the women enrolled voluntarily whilst others who had difficult marriages and whose husbands had complained to the king were enrolled forcibly. Military service disciplined them and the strength of character they had shown in marriage could be expressed through military action.

They protected the king on the battlefield and took an active part in the fighting, giving up their life if necessary. Guézo said to them: "When you go to war and if you are taken prisoner you will be sacrificed and your bodies will become food for vultures and hyenas".

Amazon carrying off an enemy, Abomey Museum coll. They, could neither marry nor have children as long as they were in the army. They were trained for war and, in principle, were dedicated to it for life.

"We are men not women. Those coming back from war without having conquered must die. If we beat a retreat our life is at the king's mercy. Whatever town is to be attacked we must overcome it or we bury ourselves in its ruins. Guézo is the king of kings. As long as he lives we have nothing to fear".

"Guézo has given birth to us again. We are his wives, his daughters, his soldiers. War is our pastime, it clothes and feeds us".

Amazon attacking an enemy, Abomey Museum coll.This seasoned army, often drunk with gin, accustomed to suffering and ready to kill without fear for their own lives always fought bravely at the battle-front and urged the troops forward.

In 1894, at the beginning of the war between the troops of General Dodds and the kingdom of Abomey, the army contained about 4,000 amazons divided into three brigades. "They are armed with double-bladed knives and Winchester rifles. These amazons perform wonders of bravery; they come to within 50 feet of our positions to be killed..." (Captain Jouvelet, 1894).

The amazon corps was disbanded by Agoli Agbo, Gbêhanzin's successor, after the defeat of the Abomey kingdom.

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