The kingdom of Danxomὲ and the epic of the Amazons: history of the 1st female military regiment in the world

Built at the beginning of the 17th century, the monarchy of Danxomὲ (Danhomè) is undoubtedly one of the most important kingdoms on the West African coast. Its territorial expansion took place from its capital Agbomὲ (Abomey), under the reign of Dada Xwegbaja (king Houegbadja) (1645-1685) whose motto was to “make Danxomὲ ever greater”. Based on centralized political power, the kingdom of Danxomὲ is a conquering state. Conceived in this way, the royalty of Danxomὲ has an army that is not only permanent and efficient but also includes women fighters. These are the “famous amazons who will bring the military glory of Guézo first, and later that of Gbèhanzin (Béhanzin) (1890-1894) his grandson” (Djivo A., 1977, P 67-68 ). Let us mention, however, that today it is difficult to say precisely when female soldiers were integrated into the army of the monarchy. But if historians struggle to precisely date their origin, it was especially from the 19th century, under the reign of Dada Gézo, (King Guézo) that the military corps was structured to become the king’s elite female unit, swearing loyalty to him until death. “If women warriors or Amazons already existed in the Danxomean army (some publications reference the origin of their existence to the reign of King AGADJA, more precisely at the end of his reign; when TASSI HANGBE, the King’s twin sister took over punctual of the King in an accident of history), it was Gézo who made it an extremely disciplined elite troop, fighting with euphoria and fury, ready to intervene in the most desperate situations” (Alladayè J. C., 2008, Pp 92 -93).

To create the body of the Amazons, Gézo has many young girls and women in his palaces. Recruitment is also done through other channels. Some young women come there voluntarily. Others, difficult in the household and whose husbands have complained to the king, are automatically incorporated. Military service disciplines them; the stubbornness and strength of character that they demonstrate in married life are usefully put to use in military action.

Elements of the armed forces, the Amazons are, inside and outside the royal residences, the bodyguards of the sovereign. On the battlefields, they protect the king and take active part in combat, sacrificing themselves if necessary without the slightest hesitation.

They cannot marry or have children as long as they belong to the army, motherhood being an obstacle to the warrior activity for which they are trained and to which they must in principle devote their entire lives. However, they are not devoid of feminine or maternal feelings. Becoming royal wives or given in marriage by the king to some valiant and faithful servant, they are among the women of the kingdom most attached to their marital duties. Brave, courageous, one of their motivations, often expressed in their songs, was to surpass the men in every way during hostilities.

Their training was very intense. It included regular exercises and simulations of large-scale attacks, particularly in the 19th century. Female soldiers thus develop their strength, flexibility, resistance and unfailing willpower. They achieve this successfully. The writings of European travelers attest that they were better organized, faster and much more courageous than male soldiers. They are not shod. Their clothing consists of short clothes: skirt or breeches, tunic, all surrounded by a pouch. Their armament consisted of clubs, knives, spears and a selection of firearms purchased from European traders, including muskets, carbines, blunderbusses, Winchesters. But their most feared weapon is a meter-long machete-shaped sword. The number of their regiments varies: three or four. It is the most experienced who lead them into combat, those who, during previous expeditions, have particularly distinguished themselves.

Throughout the history of the kingdom of Danxomὲ, female soldiers distinguished themselves by their temerity, their combativeness and their absolute obedience to the king. Without their sacrifice in battle, the kingdom of Danxomὲ would undoubtedly never have known the fame that it had. In addition to the memory that they have engraved in the collective memory, of their real name Agojié or Agͻnjié (Agondjié), the female soldiers have bequeathed to the current Republic of Benin dances, still practiced today in Abomey, songs and legends.

A Dahomean Amazon, from a photograph.
(Source : E. Reclus, L’Homme et la Terre, I).

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