Meet the Ahosi, the real life inspiration for Black Panther’s Dora Milaje warriors

The fierce Dahomey Amazons, warriors of current day Benin Republic

The “Black Panther” movie arrived in an avalanche of empowering statuses, with the predominantly black cast and “Stripped Aweh” tweets. But what the film got correctly is its accurate representation of Africa in a big budget movie. The fierce Dora Milaje warriors guarding T’Challa, the king of the fictional Wakanda kingdom, were a group of women entrusted as the protectors of the country. Danai Gurira in an interview while explaining her character in the film as the general of the Dora Milaje said that the Dora Milaje are women who pledged their lives to the throne and the security of the kingdom.

Though “Black Panther” is pure fiction and Wakanda is a fantasy nation created by comic writers, the Dora Milaje are not entirely fictional. The all-female army is inspired by a group of warriors who resided in Dahomey (present-day Benin Republic) in the late 1700s. They were known as the Ahosi (King’s Wives) or Mino (Our Mothers) among the members of their Fon ethnic group before European explorers later dubbed them the Dahomey Amazons. The women were reputed for being fierce warriors, who bit out the hearts of their captors who tried to sleep with them, even after their nation was defeated.

According to Stanley Alpern, author of the only full-length English-language study about Dahomey, the female soldiers were chosen because the king banned men from living or sleeping in the palace. No male was allowed near his throne and the warriors were considered to be married to the king. Though he rarely took up sexual relations with them, it is said that any man who attempted to touch Ahosi inappropriately faced the consequence of death.

The warriors originally consisted of imprisoned enemies of Dahomey with the duty of guarding the king and his throne. But they grew in number as time went on, soon consisting more of Dahomey natives then prisoners. And as they grew in number, their duties expanded. They went from being the king’s guards to the nation’s key fighters. After the king found that they were braver and more organized than their male counterparts when it came to battle, he sent them out to fight the nation’s battles. This control of battle given to them lead Dahomey to conquer neighbouring nations, gaining more prisoners and more land. When the French colonizers attacked the nation, the female warriors were at the forefront of the battle for independence. They were about 600 in the beginning, but at their peak, they are said to have had about 8,000 soldiers.

The women were known for their bravery, often greeted with singing and dancing from the people of their tribe until 19th century when the kingdom fell in battle with the French colonizers. The king fled the country after a fierce battle, marking the end of the Kingdom of Dahomey and their army. Dahomey then became a French possession between German Togo and British Nigeria, until Benin declared independence in 1960.

The legends of the African warriors will be represented once more in a new film titled “The Woman King”. Lupita Nyong’o who already plays as a member of the clan in “Black Panther”, will star in the film with Viola Davis. This time, the story concentrates on two members of the Dahomey Amazon clan, the general, Nanisca and her daughter Nawi. It will concentrate on their bond as mother and daughter as they battle the French army, nearby tribes and violence of living under enslavement.

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