According to Deadline, Mario Bello’s story about the Dahomey Amazons, titled Woman King, has a director. Gina Prince-Bythewood will direct the film starring Viola Davis as Nanisca, the General of the women warrior army. Lupita Nyong’o will be Nanisca’s daughter and second in command Nawi. Outside of these details, most of us are hard-pressed to drop any facts about this massive army of women who dominated and terrorized most of the Western coastline of the African continent.
Fortunately, Blerd Galaxy has rustled up a few facts about the Dahomey Amazons, courtesy the Smithsonian Magazine, to enrich your lives and conversations. Here are 10 things you need to remember about the Dahomey Amazons when Woman King comes to theaters in the next year or two.
They called the Dahomey kingdom “Black Sparta”.
The Amazon army was massive, at one point 6,000 strong and all women. The soldiers’ battle exploits brought the title home to the kingdom, the nicknamed “Black Sparta”. Opponents feared the society which was driven by the conquest, so much that warring and conquering became the Dahomey focus.
Dahomey was tiny.
It was a small kingdom in the northeastern corner of what is now the country of Benin. The area was called “The Slave Coast” because that is where many enslaved African were kidnapped and taken to be sold off America.
“The Reapers” were most deadly.
They were the most feared of the Amazon army. These women soldiers were armed with swordlike weapons that resemble three-foot-long straight razors. The weapon required both hands to use, but never compromised the fighter.
The Amazons fought with their hands and without shoes.
They went to war barefoot and fought primarily with their bodies, clubs, and knives. They are very large women and so fierce that they were rumored to have become men after their first kill. (I guess the armies they beat had a tough time admitting to being slaughter by a bunch of girls!)
King Gezo built up their numbers.
A popular rumor is of King Gezo who ruled from 1818-1858. He was so impressed by the gbeto hunters that he complimented them publicly. They say one of the women responded that she would have preferred “a manhunt”. The king was so impressed that he made his army of these women. King Gezo was the one who took the 600-woman army and expanded it to 6,000.
No other all-girl army was in regular combat rotation.
The army was thought to be the only one in the world made up of women to have regular combat duties. You can do your research to easily find other armies of women soldiers (like the one misrepresented in The King and I as a harem) and the Hollywood stories that stole their combat stories.
We don’t know where they came from.
One tale says they were wives of a 16th-century king. He made a security force of the ones he deemed “ugly” and who could not have children. These women were given the task of protecting the king. But they were said to be so fierce that he expanded their ranks.
The Amazons may also have huntress origins.
The other rumor is that the tribe had teams of women hunters called gbeto. One French naval officer wrote that he witnessed 20 gbeto go into a herd of 40 elephants. They slaughtered three to take back to feed their people.
Each Dahomey soldier was celibate.
They were married to the king, but the king never slept with them so that was that! However, this rule only fueled the rumor that the women became men after their first kill.
Their stories were bastardized a few times.
If you are thinking of the Dora Milaje (Black Panther) or the Unsullied Army (Game of Thrones), then you are not wrong. Although neither of their creators (Jack Kirby nor George RR Martin) admitted it, both armies have a host of details in common with the Dahomey Amazons.
These facts should also send you to the history books. There have got to be more stories out there about warrior women, right? Oh, there are and some of those stories are more extraordinarily. Google Queen Nzinga of Matamba—a harem of 60 men and she went to battle soaked in the blood of her victims.
Stay connected to Blerd Galaxy for more information on Woman King and other Blerdy topics.
Facts courtesy The Smithsonian Magazine. See the article “Dahomey’s Women Warriors” for more information.