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Dahomey Women's Army

Nada Halloway

Subject History » Political History
Study of History » Comparative History

Place Africa » Western Africa

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

Key-Topics colonialism, equality, revolution, war

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00440.x


War is generally seen as a masculine activity, and the historical assumption has been that women could not mentally endure the front lines of battle. However, the women of Dahomey have proven this assumption untrue for centuries. The “Amazons” of Dahomey – they were given this name by western observers who thought they resembled the Amazons of ancient Greece – began as bodyguards in the royal palace but evolved into a fighting unit in the late 1800s. The king trusted these women because they came from non-Dahomean slaves who had no ties to any groups in any of the surrounding areas. In 1850, King Gezo changed the selection process by conscripting Dahomean women into the ranks. In 1840, they fought alongside the Dahomean male soldiers and gained notoriety for fierceness in battle. They did not flinch against Abeokuta's advancing army, even when their male counterparts fled the battlefield. Similarly, as France fought to colonize their nation during the Franco-Dahomean War (1892–4), they took on the French army and the French, even with superior weaponry and the support of the Foreign Legion, suffered many casualties. The history of the warrior women of Dahomey has been largely ignored because of the notion that war is primarily a masculine activity but also because it serves to delineate the spaces that men and women occupy. To ignore the role of women in warfare is to guarantee ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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