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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The 'Amazons' of Dahomey
Author:Law, Robin R.ISNI
Geographic term:Benin
Dahomey polity
Women's Issues
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Military, Defense and Arms
Cultural Roles
Labor and Employment
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/40341664
Abstract:The most celebrated instance of 'Amazons' in Africa was undoubtedly the female army of the kingdom of Dahomey (the present Republic of Bénin), recruited from among the king's wives. These Amazons were described in a series of European accounts during the 18th and 19th centuries. They have also attracted a fair amount of academic study, amongst others in works by A. Degbelo (1979), H. d'Almeida-Topor (1984), D. Ross (1971), and E. Bay (1977). The present paper is an attempt at a critical synthesis of these earlier works, largely through a systematic confrontation with the contemporary published European documentation. An examination of the origin of the Amazons shows that King Gezo (r. 1818-1858) claimed to have created the Amazon force. However, since a royal bodyguard of female soldiers had already existed before Gezo's time, his innovation was presumably not the creation of the Amazons as such, but its organization as a more serious military rather than a purely ceremonial force. Attention is also paid to the structure of the Amazon force, the Amazons' sexuality (in practice, they remained celibate), their female roles as mothers (of the male officials and soldiers whom they doubled), wives (of the king), and daughters (of the king). The final section shows how the employment of women as soldiers was seen in Dahomey as subverting traditional gender relations. Bibliogr., notes, ref.