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Modern history's only all-female army is being forgotten as their descendants try to keep their legacy alive

Modern history's only all-female army is being forgotten as their descendants try to keep their legacy alive

Among the innumerable histories that have been lost is also that of the Amazons of Dahomey, the only documented female army in modern history. 

History is always told from the point of view of the victors. Colonized history leaves out whole chunks of information narrating a version of the past that is out of context. The history of the colonized has been erased in this manner, leaving their future generations with no idea about their ancestors or their culture. Much of Africa has been colonized and the history of the land has been lost as it slipped through the hands of the European colonizers who documented the land. Among the innumerable histories that have been lost is also that of the Amazons of Dahomey, the only documented female army in modern history. 



 

 

From the notes of the explorers and colonizers, the little that is currently known of this army is that they were a group dedicated to the service of the king. They were known to use brute force to tackle their enemies and easily could remove a man’s head with a curved blade or scale a wall of thorns. “My Amazon was gentle,” Nanlèhoundé Houédanou, 85, and is one of the last people on Earth to have grown up with one told The Washington Post. “She was known for protecting children.” Their humanity has been erased and the sparse remaining survivors of the Amazons are the only source of information currently available to learn about them.



 

 

Unlike the letter-writing Europeans, West Africans preferred the oral tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation. This is probably why not much has been documented about the Amazons after the war. “These stories are dying with people,” Serge Ouitona, a researcher on the project to reshape the misconstrued history of the Amazons, noted. “The Amazons were powerful. They had influence. But everyone stopped talking about them after the colonial conquest.” Historians at the African School of Economics have been tracking down descendants of Amazons across the nation. It is a private university that Leonard Wantchekon, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University founded near Cotonou.



 

 

“The French made sure this history wasn’t known,” said Leonard Wantchekon, a Beninese economist and a professor of international affairs at Princeton University. “They said we were backward, that they needed to ‘civilize us,’ but they destroyed opportunities for women that existed nowhere else in the world.” Benin was colonized by the French who immediately disbanded the all-women army. They opened up their own schools with a curriculum that made no mention of the Amazons. Much of the current generation barely know anything about their ancestors.



 

 

Queen Hangbe, is the founder of the Amazons according to local legend. The queen assumed the throne in the early 18th Century after the sudden death of her twin brother, Akaba, reported BBC. She was usurped by her power-hungry younger brother, Agaja. The current Queen Hangbe stated that all traces of her ancestor’s reign were erased by Agaja, who believed that only men should hold the throne. The only legacy that she was able to leave behind was that of the Amazon soldiers. “Where a profession that's critical for society is dominated by men, well, why don’t we insert a unit of elite women to work side by side with men? To be equal to men," Wantchekon said of the Amazons.



 

 

Houédanou shared how she is trying to keep the legacy of the Amazons alive by talking about her step-grandmother: Nafivovo. “It’s my job to keep her alive,” she said. “I’m one of the oldest people in this village, so it’s up to me to teach the young people their history.” Even though she finds it hard to hold the interest of the youngsters today, she tries to keep it entertaining by incorporating war songs. To that end, the Disney movie, Black Panther had the fictional all-women army Dora Milaje who were inspired by the Amazons.



 

 


 
 
 

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