The story of the Dahomey Warrior Women of West Africa involves a fascinating history that spans from 1645 to 1940. This elite squad of female warriors fought and died for the border rights and inter-tribal issues in the ancient kingdom of Dahomey.
These women, who outranked their male counterparts, were given far more privileges, including the ability to come and go from the palaces as they pleased (unlike the men). They were so revered for their warrior prowess, The Smithsonian explains, that men were taught to keep their distance:
“Recruiting women into the Dahomean army was not especially difficult, despite the requirement to climb thorn hedges and risk life and limb in battle. Most West African women lived lives of forced drudgery. Gezo’s female troops lived in his compound and were kept well supplied with tobacco, alcohol and slaves – as many as 50 to each warrior, according to the noted traveler Sir Richard Burton, who visited Dahomey in the 1860s.
And “when amazons walked out of the palace,” notes Alpern, “they were preceded by a slave girl carrying a bell. The sound told every male to get out of their path, retire a certain distance, and look the other way.” To even touch these women meant death.”
Yet as colonialist ambitions grew in the region, the Dahomey female warriors grew sparse. Fierce combat missions to crush the independent kingdom eventually succeeded, and in the 1940s, it is said that the last of the female warriors died.