Vintage hand-colorized photograph of Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies. She was orphaned in 1848, when her parents were killed in a
slave-hunting war. She was around five years old. In 1850, Sarah was
taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from the
King of Dahomey. She became the queen’s goddaughter and a celebrity
known for her extraordinary intelligence.
Black History Album: The Way We Were. 100 Years of African American Vintage
Photography from the end of slavery in the 1860′s to the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and beyond.Pinterest | Tumblr | Twitter | Facebook.
Speaking of West Africa, the Dahomey Warrior Women involves a fascinating history that spans nearly 200 years. It was during this time that the 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 eventually 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.
“Black Lesbians are not apolitical. We have been a part of every freedom struggle within this country.”- Audre Lorde
On Wednesday evening, October 22, myself and 5 other WARRIOR QUEENS with our warrior brother, took a stand for Black Lives on the I-75 interstate of Downtown Atlanta. From Ferguson to Atlanta, young Black women are standing on the front lines and continuing the radical legacy of ancestors:
From the Amazon legions of Dahomey through the Ashanti warrior queen Yaa Asantewaa. From the freedom fighter Harriet Tubman to anti-lynching crusader, Ida B Wells. From Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Septima Clark to Assata Shakur, Kathleen Clever, and Angela Davis.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.” - Assata Shakur
Marcus Garvey with Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houenou of Dahomey, called the “Garvey of Africa”, and George O. Marke. In Harlem 1924.
Kojo Tovalou Houénou (born Marc Tovalou Quénum; 25 April 1887 – 13 July 1936) was a prominent African critic of the French colonial empire in Africa. Born in Porto-Novo (a French protectorate in present-day Benin) to a wealthy father and a mother related to the king of the Kingdom of Dahomey. He was sent to France for education at the age of 13, received a law degree, medical training, and served in the French armed forces as an army doctor during World War I. Following the war, Houénou became a minor celebrity in Paris; dating actresses, writing books as a public intellectual, and making connections with many of the elite of French society. In 1921, he visited Dahomey for the first time since 1900 and upon returning to France became active in trying to build bonds between France and Dahomey. In 1923, he was assaulted in a French nightclub by Americans who objected to an African being served in the club and the attack served to change his perspective and increase his efforts to confront racism. He founded an organization and a newspaper with the help of other African intellectuals living in Paris like René Maran and traveled to New York City to attend Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) conference. Upon returning to France, Houénou was considered a subversive by the French government, his newspaper went bankrupt, the organization he founded folded, and he was forced to leave France and move back to Dahomey. Following unrest attributed to him in Dahomey, he relocated eventually to Dakar, Senegal where he continued to be harassed by the French authorities. He died from Typhoid fever in 1936 while imprisoned in Dakar, after being arrested on contempt of court charges.
From 1625 to 1900, 12 kings succeeded one another at the head of the powerful Kingdom of Abomey. (You might know it as the Kingdom of Dahomey.) Each king, upon ascension, built himself a new palace to demonstrate his power and magnificence. Each one was constructed in a similar style with the same materials. Spread out over 99 acres, the palaces are decorated with bas-reliefs which document the accomplishments and events during the reign of each king.With the exception of King Akaba, who had his own separate enclosure, they all had their palaces built within the same walled area. The Royal Palaces of Abomey is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Benin.
As promised in our Palaces
of Abomey episode, we are returning to the kingdom of Dahomey today to talk
about their female combat force, nicknamed the Amazons by Europeans. This is
one of the earliest all-female combat forces in history — many that existed
earlier were primarily ceremonial or symbolic, but the Amazons were on the front
lines for at least a century.
“A sub-saharan band of female terminators who left their European colonisers shaking in their boots, foreign observers named them the Dahomey Amazons while they called themselves N’Nonmiton, which means “our mothers”. Protecting their king on the bloodiest of battlefields, they emerged as an elite fighting force in the Kingdom of Dahomey in, the present-day Republic of Benin. Described as untouchable, sworn in as virgins, swift decapitation was their trademark.
These are not mythical characters. The last surviving Amazon of Dahomey died at the age of 100 in 1979, a woman named Nawi who was discovered living in a remote village. At their height, they made up around a third of the entire Dahomey army; 6,000 strong, but according to European records, they were consistently judged to be superior to the male soldiers in effectiveness and bravery.
Their history traces as far back as the 17th century, and theories suggest they started as a corps of elephant hunters who impressed the Dahomey King with their skills while their husbands were away fighting other tribes.A different theory suggests that because women were the only people permitted in the King’s palace with him after dark, they naturally became his bodyguards. Whichever is true, only the strongest, healthiest and most courageous women were recruited for the meticulous training that would turn them into battle-hungry killing machines, feared throughout Africa for more than two centuries.
In 2015, a French street artist, YZ, begun her own campaign to pay tribute to the fierce female fighters of the 19th century. Working in Senegal, south of Dakar, she pastes large-format photograph prints she found in local archives of the warrior women. You can see more of her installations here.”
Art. French Street Artist YZ Pays Homage to the Warrior Women of Dahomey on the Walls of Senegal.
The African Kingdom of Dahomey (modern day Benin) lasted from about 1600-1900. In 1729, an all-female militia organized and became a respected force within the kingdom. Eventually, the militia became so highly respected that King Ghezo, king of Dahomey from 1797 to 1818 ordered all of the families in the kingdom to send their daughters in to be considered to join the militia. Only the fittest and strongest women were chosen.
In 1849, a young African girl came within moments of being sacrificed in the bloody Dahomian ritual called the “watering of the graves.” But Commander Frederick E. Forbes, the young British captain of the HMS Bonetta, intervened, provoking Dahomian King Gezo to offer the girl as a gift to Queen Victoria instead. Forbes named the girl Sarah Forbes Bonetta and took her back to England, where she became Queen Victoria’s protege. Walter Dean Myers discovered the kernel of Sarah’s story in a bundle of original letters he purchased from a London book dealer. From these letters, along with excerpts from Queen Victoria’s diary, newspapers, and Forbes’s published account of the Dahomans, Myers pieced together Sarah’s life.
The Yoruba people, of which there is at the present time more than 25 million, occupies the western South corner of Nigeria, by all the edge of Dahomey and it extends until he himself Dahomey. At the east and the north, the Yoruba culture arrives at its limits in the Niger river. Nevertheless, ancestral cultures directly related to the Yorubas bloomed to the north of Niger (Map). The archaeological discoveries and the genetic studies indicate that the ancestors of the Yorubas can have lived in this territory from prehistory. Archaeological evidences indicate that a society proto-Yoruba with high technological and artistic levels, was living to the north of Niger in the first millenium on ours was, and they already had knowledge of the iron.
The Ifa theology raises that the creation of the humanity occurred in the sacred city of Ile-Ife, where Oduduwacreated mainland of the water. Much later a unknown number migrated towards Ile Ife. In this point the western ones were sinergized with African Eastern and some hypotheses cradles in the similarity of the Egyptian sculptures and the found ones in the city been of Ife, indicate that the originating Yorubas can descend from the Oduduwa of Egypt and that these founded the first kingdoms. The Yorubas called themselves “the children of Oduduwa”.
These Yoruba city-kingdoms comprised of more than 25 kingdoms, all of them centralized. Of all of them, it is Ile-Ife, the universally recognized as most important. Is believed that its foundation dates from year 850. His eternal rival, the kingdom of Oyo, to the northwest of Ife, was based approximately towards the 1350 DC. The Oni (king) of Ife and the Alafin de Oyo still are considered as Yoruba kings and they respect them in Nigeria by the people. Other important kingdoms were Itsekiri, Ondo and Owo in the Southeastern, Ekiti and Ijesha to the northwest and the Egbado, Shabe, Ketu, Ijebu, and Awori in the southwest.
The Portuguese explorers “discovered” the Yoruba cities and their kingdoms in century XV, but cities such as Ife and Benin, among others, have been in their sites by hundreds of years before the European arrived.
The kingdom of Oyo was based with the aid of the Portuguese arms. At the end of the 18th century takes place a civil war in which one of the sides obtains the support of the Fulani, that in year 1830 took control of the control of all the Oyo empire. The Fulani invasion pushed many Yoruba towards the south where the towns of Ibadan and Abeokuta were based. In 1888, with the aid of a British mediator, Yorubas and Fulanis signed an agreement by which they regained the control on its earth. In 1901 Yorubaland it is colonized officially by the British empire, who settle down an administrative system that maintains great part of the structure of Yoruba government.
During all these years Ife maintained its vital importance like sacred city, cradles of the Yorubas and it bases of its religious thought. Until recently time, the Yorubas was not considered to themselves like a single nation. Rather they were considered like citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yagba, among other cities. These cities considered the inhabitants of Lakes and Owo, for example, like foreign neighbors. The Yorubas kingdoms not only fought against the Dahometans, but also to each other. The Yoruba name was applied to all these people related linguistically and culturally by its neighbors of the north, the Hausas.
The typical old Yoruba cities, were urban centers with farms to his around that they extended by dozens of miles or more. Oyo and Benin were founded by kings of Ife or their descendants. Benin directly obtained its ritual knowledge of Ife, and the religious system of Ifa divination expanded from Ife not only through all the Yoruba territory, but that reached to everybody. A system of common Yoruba beliefs dominated the region from Niger, moving towards the east to the Gulf of Guinea in the south.
It was not by accident that the Yoruba culture expanded through Atlantic until America. Hunters of European slaves captured million of African violently and they sent them in overloaded negreros boats towards America. Wars for slaves began from the kingdom of Dahomey against some of the Yorubas kingdoms, and similars wars between such Yorubas, took these wear prisoners as slaves available for their transportation towards America. Yorubas slaves were sent to English, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the new world, and in a great part of these places, the Yorubas traditions survived with great force. In Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and Trinidad, the religious rites Yorubas, beliefs, music and myths are enthroned to the present time. In Haiti the Yorubas was called Anagos. Haitian religious activities gave an honor place to the rites and Yorubas beliefs, its pantheon includes numerous deities of Yoruba origin.
The slavery in the United States was very different from other colonized regions. The language and the culture of these captives were cruely eliminated, where the African received the capital punishment generally to exert their practices.
In Cuba, it happened a process of mixing of the Yoruba religion with the catholic, giving rise to a new system, known as Rule of Osha or Santería, that is the one that with more force has extended to Latin America, the United States and Europe. This resurgence in popularity and interest of the adaptation of Yoruba and Ifa with the catholicism, arrived at the United States through the Puerto Ricans in the 40 ’ s and the 50 ’ s (which previously had received it from Cuba) and soon in the 60 ’ s with the flow of Cuban refugees.
In Cuba, the pantheon of the Yorubas deities has survived intact, next to a complex of rites, beliefs, music, dances and myths of Yoruba origin.
Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou | Demoiselles de Porto-Novo
Existing within the faded walls of a family home at the centre of one city’s complex history, these are the Demoiselles de Porto Novo.
As the title would suggest, the solitary figure within these images are of young women from the port city, and former capital of French Dahomey. Demoiselles de Porto-Novo the portraiture series, is part of a broader body of work and project entitled Citizens of Port-Novo by Beninois photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou.
Today’s Warrior Women Wednesdays installment is Danjihuntu and Jihiwatun of the Dahomey Amazons. The Dahomey were pretty darn horrible by both modern sentiments and those of their own time, but the M’nonmilton certainly qualify as warrior women. Were I to tackle them as a narrative, I would likely center on the defense by their enemies of Abeokuta, a walled city built to protect folks from being captured and sold into slavery.
We must not reduce African societies to just villages. We are talking about the destruction of empires, states and nations. Even if we just talk about West Africa, Dahomey was a state; Benin was a state; Ashanti was a state. And it is important not to see Africa as just a collection of underdeveloped villages. For this is part of the European lie to claim an undeserved and untenable superiority…When the European first came to Africa, he had to pay taxes and tribute on the coast and had to stay on the coast. And in Dahomey, they made him build his houses in mud, not in stone to show how impermanent his residence was. And he exchanged ambassadors where he could. He exchanged ambassadors not only with Songhai, but also with Angola, Congo and other states. It was at first a necessary mutual respect for policy…But eventually, Africa, an old centre of civilisation, began to decline and capitalism began to rise, and you have a shift then in the balance of power. And the Europeans began to strengthen themselves on the coast. And appropriating knowledge from Africa and Asia and synthesising technique, they began to shift the balance of power. They began to go inland.