Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-h5t46 Total loading time: 0.621 Render date: 2022-06-27T12:49:50.491Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

On the Origins of the Amazons of Dahomey*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2014


Among the most intriguing unresolved historical questions concerning the women soldiers of Dahomey are the journalist's basic when, how and why (the who and where are givens). We know the amazons' terminal date precisely: the fourth of November 1892, when they fought their last battle against the French at the gates of Cana. But assertions in the literature as to when they got started range all the way from the reign of Wegbaja (ca. 1640-ca. 1680-85) to that of Glele (1858-89).

Neither Wegbaja nor Glele can seriously be considered as the originator of the amazons, though the former has a far better claim than the latter. The Wegbaja thesis rests on a tradition that he created the well-known corps of elephant huntresses, the gbeto, and on speculation that they became the first amazon unit. The gbeto may even predate Wegbaja: Palau Marti cites a tradition that he organized pre-existing huntresses into a special corps. Lombard offers the plausible explanation that since women provisioned the royal palace, it was only natural that some of them furnish game for the king's table. Dunglas seems to have been the first to write down the tradition tracing the gbeto to Wegbaja; he was inclined to accept it. P.K. Glèlè says Wegbaja began employing women as personal guards. Cornevin states, without giving his source, that it was the gbeto themselves who doubled as the king's bodyguards. None of this can be proved, and in any case no one has suggested that Wegbaja ever used women as real soldiers.

Research Article
Copyright © African Studies Association 1998

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This paper grew out of research for a book titled Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey (London, 1998) scheduled for co-publication in July 1998 by C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. of London and New York University Press.


1 Le Hérissé, A., L'ancien royaume du Dahomey: moeurs, religion, histoire (Paris, 1911), 67.Google Scholar Le Hérissé was the first author to identify the gbeto as the oldest amazon unit, but he wrongly credited their founding to Gezo. See also Prévaudeau, Marie-Madeleine, Abomey-la-mystique (Paris, 1936), 9394Google Scholar; Polanyi, Karl, Dahomey and the Slave Trade (Seattle, 1966), 28Google Scholar; Maroukis, Thomas Constantine, “Warfare and Society in the Kingdom of Dahomey: 1818-1894” (Ph.D., Boston University, 1974), 108.Google Scholar

2 Marti, Montserrat Palau, Le roi-dieu au Bénin (Paris, 1964), 141.Google Scholar

3 Lombard, Jacques, “The Kingdom of Dahomey” in West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Forde, Daryll and Kaberry, P.M. (London, 1967), 84.Google Scholar

4 Dunglas, Edouard, “Contribution à l'histoire du Moyen-Dahomey (royaumes d'Abomey, de Kétou et de Ouidah),” Etudes Dahoméennes (hereafter ED), 19 (1957), 159.Google Scholar

5 Glélè, Pogla K., “Le royaume du Dan-Hô-Min: Tradition orale et histoire écrite” (Master's thesis, Centre des archives d'outre-mer [hereafter CAOM], Aix-en-Provence), 78.Google Scholar

6 Cornevin, Robert, La République populaire du Bénin des origines dahoméennes à nos jours (Paris, 1981), 105–06.Google Scholar This book updates Cornevin's, Histoire du Dahomey of 1962.Google Scholar

7 A school of one, Paul Mimande, holds that Glele founded the amazons, thus betraying abysmal ignorance of a large body of testimony: Mimande, Paul, L'héritage de Béhanzin (Paris, 1898), 23.Google Scholar Paul Mimande was the pseudonym of Viscount Armand de la Loyère, acting governor of Dahomey in 1895-96. See d'Almeida-Topor, Hélène, Les amazones: une armée de femmes dans l'Afrique précoloniale (Paris, 1984), 167Google Scholar; Garcia, Luc, Le royaume du Daliomé face à la pénétration coloniale (1874-1894), (Paris, 1988), 245n31.Google Scholar

8 Also known as Ahanbé, Hãgbé, Hangbé, or Xãgbé, sometimes preceded by Tasi, Tassi, or Tassin.

9 Law, Robin, “The ‘Amazons’ of Dahomey,” Paideuma, 39 (1993), 250.Google Scholar See also Law, , The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550-1750 (Oxford, 1991), 275n59.Google Scholar If by “late” he means the twentieth century, I doubt that anyone would bother to invent “a sort of mythical charter” for the amazons after they and the kingdom itself had gone out of existence. If late means nineteenth-century, one wonders why no European visitor reported the rationale.

10 Maire, Victor-Louis, Dahomey-Abomey: la dynastie dahoméenne. Les palais: leurs bas-reliefs (Besançon, 1905), 43.Google Scholar

11 I bought one at the Abomey palace in 1994.

12 Nzinga of Matamba, an outstanding warrior queen in seventeenth-century Angola, suffered a similar fate. Joseph C. Miller found in 1969 that local traditional histories, “which accurately preserve the titles of other seventeenth-century … rulers,” were “damningly silent” about her. Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective,” JAH, 16(1975), 213, 213n20.Google Scholar

13 See Law, Robin, “History and Legitimacy: Aspects of the Use of the Past in Precolonial Dahomey,” HA, 15 (1988), 434–35Google Scholar, for a discussion of secret clan and royal traditions and their divulgence after the fall of the Dahomean state. See also Hérissé, Le, Ancien royaume, 8–9. 105, 272–73Google Scholar; Dunglas, , “Contribution,” 8081.Google Scholar

14 Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 6–7, 15.Google Scholar Most Anglophone authors leave the first accent mark off Le Hérissé's name because that's the way it appears on the cover and title page of his book. It was a typographical blooper. The name appears 47 other times in the book with both accent marks. Most Francophone authors instinctively correct the mistake. Auguste-Louis-René-Joseph Le Hérissé (1876-1953) served as a colonial official in Dahomey from 1901 to 1914, mainly as chief administrator of the Abomey cercle. He became so fluent in the Fon language, it was said, that blind men could not tell he was a white. He was able to interview Agbidinoukoun and other informants without the always risky mediation of an interpreter. His uncle, René-Félix Le Hérissé, a National Assembly deputy, visited Dahomey briefly in 1902 and wrote a book, Voyage au Dahomey et à la Côte d'Ivoire (Paris, 1903).Google Scholar After Auguste retired in 1924, he succeeded René as mayor of Antrain, their home town in Brittany. See Dictionnaire bio-biographique du Dahomey (Porto-Novo, 1969), 108–09Google Scholar; Hommes et destins (dictionnaire biographique d'Outre-Mer), (10 vols.: Paris, 19751995), 1:378.Google Scholar

15 Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 291.Google Scholar

16 Ibid., 294-95.

17 Blanchély, , “Au Dahomey: premier voyage de M. Blanchély aîné, gérant de la factorerie de M. Régis, de Marseille, à Whydah (1848),” 2d part, Les Missions Catholiques, 23/1171 (13 novembre 1891), 547Google Scholar; Forbes, Frederick E., Dahomey and the Dahomans (2 vols.: London, 1851), 2:128, 131, 135CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bouët, Auguste. “Le royaume de Dahomey,” 3d part, L'Illustration, 10/492 (31 juillet 1852), 74Google Scholar; Nardin, Jean-Claude, “La reprise des relations franco-dahoméennes au XIXe siècle: la mission d'Auguste Bouët à la cour d'Abomey (1851),” Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, 7 (1967), 113, 113n3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Burton, Richard F., A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome, ed., Newbury, C.W. (New York, 1966), 99, 102n35Google Scholar (in which he gives the meaning of Dosu), 312; Burton, , “Notes on the Dahoman,” in Selected Papers on Anthropology, Travel and Exploration, ed., Penzer, N.M. (London, 1924), 112Google Scholar; Skertchly, J.A., Dahomey as It Is (London, 1874), 449–50, 518Google Scholar; Brunet, L. and Giethlen, Louis, Dahomey et dépendances (Paris, 1900), 59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Musée de l'Homme inventory no. M.H.31.36.3.

19 Waterlot, Em. G., Les bas-reliefs des bâtiments royaux d'Abomey (Dahomey), (Paris, 1926), plate XXIIIGoogle Scholar; Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 363, 364, figure 1Google Scholar; Adandé, Alexandre, Les récades des rois du Dahomey (Dakar, 1962), 68 and plateGoogle Scholar; Glélé, Maurice Ahanhanzo, Le Danxome: du pouvoir aja à la nation fon (Paris, 1974), 52.Google Scholar

20 Hazoumé, Paul, Doguicimi (Paris, 1938), 20Google Scholar; Anilo, G … (probably Glele), “Histoire des rois du Dahomey,” Grands Lacs, n.s. 88/90 (1 juillet 1946), 47, 48Google Scholar; Coissy, Anatole, “Un règne de femme dans l'ancien royaume d'Abomey,” ED, 2 (1949), 58Google Scholar; Mercier, Paul, Les ase du musée d'Abomey (Dakar, 1952), 22, 44Google Scholar; Mercier, , “The Fon of Dahomey” in Forde, Daryll, ed., African Worlds (London, 1954), 232Google Scholar; Akindélé, Adolphe and Aguessy, Cyrille, Le Dahomey (Paris, 1955), 20Google Scholar; Sossouhounto, F., “Les anciens rois de la dynastie d'Abomey,” ED, 13 (1955), 30Google Scholar; Dunglas, , “Contribution,” 87, 96–97, 99Google Scholar; Newbury, C.W., The Western Slave Coast and Its Rulers (Oxford, 1961), 14Google Scholar; Adandé, , Récades, 68Google Scholar; Cornevin, , République populaire, 95, 100–02, 134Google Scholar; Marti, Palau, Roidieu, 119, 119n1, 157Google Scholar; Argyle, W.J., The Fon of Dahomey (Oxford, 1966), 12Google Scholar; Akinjogbin, I.A., Dahomey and Us Neighbours, 1708-1818 (Cambridge, 1967), 6062Google Scholar; Constant-Ernest d'Oliveira, Th., La visite du Musée d'Histoire d'Abomey (Abomey, 1970), 23Google Scholar; Pliya, Jean, Histoire: Dahomey, Afrique Occidentale (Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, 1970), 58, 59Google Scholar; CAOM, SOM-D 3538, Glélè, Pogla K., “Le royaume du Dan-Hô-Min: tradition orale et histoire écrite,” (Master's thesis, 1971), 4647Google Scholar; Glélé, , Danxome, 52, 89, 91Google Scholar; Obichere, Boniface I., “Change and Innovation in the Administration of the Kingdom of Dahomey,” Journal of African Studies, I (1974), 245Google Scholar; Obichere, , “Women and Slavery in the Kingdom of Dahomey,” Revue Française d'Histoire d'Outre-Mer, 45 (1978), 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bay, Edna G., “The Royal Women of Abomey” (Ph.D., Boston University, 1977), 125–26Google Scholar; Bay, , “On the Trail of the Bush King: a Dahomean Lesson in the Use of Evidence, HA, 6 (1979), 7Google Scholar; Degbelo, Amélie, “Les amazones du Danxomè, 1645-1900” (Master's thesis, Université Nationale du Bénin, 1979), 33, 36–37, 39Google Scholar; van Dantzig, Albert, Les Hollandais sur la côte de Guinée à l'époque de l'essor de l'Ashanti et du Dahomey 1680-1740 (Paris, 1980), 222Google Scholar; Almeida-Topor, , Amazones, 34, 36Google Scholar; Garcia, , Royaume, 131Google Scholar; Blier, Suzanne Preston, “The Path of the Leopard: Motherhood and Majesty in Early Danhomè,” JAH, 36 (1995), 391, 414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Of all the above sources, only Akinjogbin challenges the dual kingship tradition, but he does not question Ahangbé's historical existence.

21 Bay, , “Royal Women,” 125n4, 126nn2, 3.Google Scholar

22 Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 295.Google Scholar

23 Coissy, , “Règne de femme,” 58.Google Scholar

24 Dunglas, , “Contribution,” 97.Google Scholar See also Cornevin, , République populaire, 100.Google Scholar

25 Glélé, , Danxome, 89.Google Scholar

26 Bay, , “Royal Women,” 126, 126n3.Google Scholar

27 Degbelo, , “Amazones,” 35.Google Scholar The Ouéménou are said to have been so impressed by Akaba's female militia that they started one of their own but it fizzled out.

28 Ibid., 174.

29 Anonymous, Les panthères noires du roi Ghézo,” Calao, no. 15 (juin 1977), 25Google Scholar, cited in Degbelo, , “Amazones,” 3536Google Scholar, and Almeida-Topor, , Amazones, 3334.Google Scholar

30 Forbes, , Dahomey, 2:135.Google Scholar

31 PRO, FO 84/827, Fanshawe to Admiralty, 19 July 1850, enclosing Forbes's 139-page journal. The statement is on p. 71 (my pagination).

32 Degbelo, , “Amazones,” 36, 37, 39, 40.Google Scholar See also Garcia, , Royaume, 131.Google Scholar

33 Bosman, William, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea (London, 1705), 366a–67.Google Scholar

34 Law, Robin, “Royal Monopoly and Private Enterprise in the Atlantic Trade: the Case of Dahomey,” JAH, 18 (1977), 556–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem., “Dahomey and the Slave Trade: Reflections on the Historiography of the Rise of Dahomey,” JAH, 27 (1986), 264-65; idem., “Ideologies of Royal Power: the Dissolution and Reconstruction of Political Authority on the ‘Slave Coast’, 1680-1750,” Africa, 57 (1987), 325-26, 331-32, 335-37; idem., Slave Coast, 70-115.

35 CAOM, DFC, Côtes d'Afrique, no. 104, carton 75, “Relation du Royaume de Judas en Guinée, De son Gouvernement, des moeurs de ses habitans, de leur Religion, Et du Negoce qui sy fait,” 25 (my pagination).

36 Ibid., 84.

37 Des Marchais' account can be found in two places: Labat, Jean-Baptiste, Voyage du chevalier Des Marchais en Guinée, isles voisines, et à Cayenne, fait en 1725, 1726 & 1727 (4 vols.: Paris, 1730)Google Scholar, and in the mariner's original manuscript, “Journal du Voiage du Guinée et Cayenne Par Le Chevalier Des Marchais Capitaine Comandant La fregatte de la Compagnie des Indes, L'Expédition Pendant les Années 1724, 1725 et 1726,” which survives as Fonds Français 24223 in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Curiously, our information about first- and second-class royal wives comes from Labat (2:79), not Des Marchais directly. Des Marchais had visited Whydah in 1704 and a journal from that period (Add. MSS 19560) is in the British Library. Paul Hair has advised me that it promises but fails to include material on Whydah, and he suggests that Labat may have had access to that missing portion. Alternatively, Labat may have had opportunities to consult Des Marchais after the latter's return to France. See Nardin, Jean-Claude, “Que savons-nous du chevalier Des Marchais?” in Daget, Serge, ed., De la traile à l'esclavage (2 vols.: Nantes, 1988), 1:344.Google Scholar Labat and the Paris MS. are in general accord on the police role of third-class wives. See Labat, , Voyage, 2:96–98, 251Google Scholar, and Marchais, Des, “Journal,” f. 48v, f. 60r.Google Scholar

38 Argyle, , Fon, 82, 82n3.Google Scholar The sources are Skertchly, , Dahomey, 4849Google Scholar, and Quénum, Maximilien, Au pays des Fons, (Paris, 1938), 23.Google Scholar

39 Ellis, A.B., The Land of Fetish (London, 1883), 54–56, 58.Google Scholar

40 Law, Robin, “Further Light on Bulfinch Lambe and the ‘Emperor of Pawpaw’: King Agaja of Dahomey's Letter to King Ceorge I of England, 1726,” HA, 17 (1990), 217.Google Scholar The letter was transcribed by Lambe.

41 Antoine-Edmé Pruneau de Pommegorge (a/k/a Joseph Pruneau), Description de la Nigritie (Amsterdam, 1789), 162.Google Scholar

42 Dalzel, Archibald, The History of Dahomy, an Inland Kingdom of Africa (London, 1793), xiii.Google Scholar

43 Norris, Robert, Memoirs of the Reign of Bossa Alàdee, King of Dahomy, an Inland Country of Guiney (London, 1789), 94.Google Scholar

44 Labarthe, Pierre, Voyage à la côte de Guinée (Paris, 1803), 120, 122Google Scholar; CAOM, DFC, Côtes d'Afrique, no. 111, Réfléxions sur Juda par les Srs De Chenevert et abbé Bullet,” 1 juin 1776, p. 7.Google Scholar

45 Law, , “Further Light,” 219.Google Scholar

46 Snelgrave, William, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea and the Slave-Trade (London, 1734), 34.Google Scholar

47 van Dantzig, Albert, ed. and tr., The Dutch and the Guinea Coast 1674-1742: a Collection of Documents from the General State Archive at The Hague (Accra, 1978), 296.Google Scholar

48 de Pommegorge, Pruneau, Description, 162.Google Scholar

49 Norris, , Memoirs, 105–06.Google Scholar

50 Pires, Vicente Ferreira, Viagem de Africa em o Reino de Daliomé (São Paulo, 1957), 68.Google Scholar

51 M'Leod, John, A Voyage to Africa with Some Account of the Manners and Customs of the Dahomian People (London, 1820), 38.Google Scholar M'Leod probably got his information from Lionel Abson, longtime head of the English fort at Whydah, who may have been alluding to any or all Icings from Tegbesu to Adandozan.

52 Burton, , Mission, 256Google Scholar; Reade, Winwood, “The Kingdom of Dahomey” in Bates, H.W., ed., Illustrated Travels: a Record of Discovery, Geography and Adventure, II, part 24 (1870), 358Google Scholar; Skertchly, , Dahomey, 450, 454Google Scholar; Dubarry, Armand, Voyage au Dahomey (Paris, 1879), 156Google Scholar; Chautard, Pierre-Eugène, le Dahomey (Lyon, 1890), 6Google Scholar; Ellis, , Land of Fetish, 56Google Scholar; Ellis, , The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa (London, 1890), 183, 290Google Scholar; Barbou, Alfred, Histoire de la guerre au Dahomey (Paris, 1893), 21Google Scholar; Grandin, Léonce, A l'assaut du pays des noirs: le Dahomey, (2 vols.: Paris, 1895), 1:242Google Scholar; Verdal, Georges, “Les amazones du Dahomey,” Education Physique, n.s. 29 (janvier 1934), 55Google Scholar; Herskovits, Melville J., Dahomey, an Ancient West African Kingdom (2 vols.: New York, 1938), 2:84Google Scholar; Meyerowitz, Eva L.R., “‘Our Mothers’: the Amazons of Dahomey,” Geographical Magazine, 15 (1943), 446Google Scholar; Dunglas, , “Contribution,” 159–60Google Scholar; Biobaku, S. O., The Egba and Their Neighbours, 1842-1872 (Oxford, 1957), 38Google Scholar; Mercier, P. and Lombard, J., Guide du Musée d'Abomey (Porto-Novo, 1959), 20Google Scholar; Cornevin, , République populaire, 105–06Google Scholar; Polanyi, , Dahomey, 28Google Scholar; Glélè, , “Royaume,” 78.Google Scholar

53 Snelgrave, , New Account, 125–27.Google Scholar

54 See note 52. Dunglas, , “Contribution,” 160Google Scholar, says that Agaja's use of women against Whydah “as regular troops” forming “the reserve and rear guard” was “a real success: this lesson was not lost on the Dahomeans.”

55 Law, Robin, “A Neglected Account of the Dahomian Conquest of Whydah (1727): the ‘Relation de la Guerre de Juda’ of the Sieur Ringard of Nantes,” HA, 15 (1988), 321–38.Google Scholar

56 Ibid., 327.

57 Ibid., 335n17. As for the children, Law, ibid., 335-36n18, cites references in Snelgrave, (New Account, 78)Google Scholar and Smith, William (A New Voyage to Guinea ([London, 1744], 192)Google Scholar to boy apprentice warriors.

58 Law, , “Further Light,” 219Google Scholar, with emphasis added.

59 Ibid., 217.

60 Ibid., 222n18; Law, , “‘Amazons‘,” 249.Google Scholar

61 Law, , “Further Light,” 217.Google Scholar

62 de Salinis, A., La Marine au Dahomey: campagne de “La Naïade” (1890-1892), (Paris, 1901), 98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The tradition was mentioned in a letter of 18 August 1890 from Béhanzin to Adm. Cavelier de Cuverville.

63 Degbelo, , “Amazones,” 23.Google Scholar

64 Typescript copy of untitled, unpublished book by T.B. Freeman, Methodist Missionary Society Archives, Biographical West Africa, Box 597, 168; CMS (Church Missionary Society), CA2/016/34, extracts by C. Chapman from J. Dawson's journal and from his letters to F. Fitzgerald, 17 November 1862, 21; Foà, Edouard, Le Dahomey (Paris, 1895), 23, 255–56Google Scholar; Brunet, and Giethlen, , Dahomey, 63Google Scholar; Maire, , Dahomey, 49Google Scholar; Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 67Google Scholar; Prévaudeau, , Abomey-la-mystique, 9394Google Scholar; Djivo, Adrien, Guézo la rénovation du Dahomey (Paris, 1977), 7071.Google Scholar

65 Reade, , “Kingdom,” 358Google Scholar; Skertchly, , Dahomey, 454Google Scholar; Ellis, , Ewe-Speaking Peoples, 183, 311Google Scholar; Herskovits, , Dahomey, 2:85Google Scholar; Mercier, /Lombard, , Guide, 20Google Scholar; Cornevin, , République populaire, 124–25Google Scholar; Argyle, , Fon, 39, 87Google Scholar; Ross, David, “Dahomey” in Crowder, Michael, ed., West African Resistance (New York, 1971), 148–49Google Scholar; Glélé, , Danxome, 133Google Scholar; Adeyinka, Augustus A., “King Gezo of Dahomey, 1818-1858: a Reassessment of a West African Monarch in the Nineteenth Century,” African Studies Review, 17 (1974), 544CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bay, , “Royal Women,” 165–66.Google Scholar Although Dunglas says women were first used as troops by Agaja (see note 54 above), he credits Gezo with organizing the first amazon “regiments,” including one called the Djèkpo or Djèdokpo, meaning “Down on your knees!” When the warrioresses passed by, he explains, common folk had to kneel. La première attaque des Dahoméens contre Abéokuta (3 mars 1851),” ED, 1 (1948), 15Google Scholar; Contribution à l'histoire du Moyen-Dahomey,” ED 20 (1957), 8384.Google ScholarCornevin, , République populaire, 124Google Scholar, echoes him. Glélè, , “Royaume,” 78Google Scholar, who spells it jè-dô-pô, traces the unit to Agaja's “rear guard” at Whydah in 1729.

66 Law, , “‘Amazons’,” 250.Google Scholar

67 Ibid., 249.

68 Norris, , Memoirs, 128–30Google Scholar; Dalzel, , History, 204–05Google Scholar; Pires, , Viagem, 79.Google Scholar

69 de Pommegorge, Pruneau, Description, 162, 181–82.Google Scholar

70 PRO, T 70/31, William Mutter to Committee, 27 May 1764; Dupuis, Joseph, Journal of a Residence in Ashantee (2d ed.: London, 1966), 237–39Google Scholar; Rattray, R.S., Ashanti Law and Constitution (London, 1929), 221Google Scholar; Boahen, Adu, “Asante-Dahomey Contacts in the 19th Century,” Ghana Notes and Queries, no. 7 (January 1965), 12, note 9Google Scholar; Akinjogbin, , Dahomey, 124, 124n2Google Scholar; Fynn, J.K., Asante and Its Neighbours, 1700-1807 (London, 1971), 9697Google Scholar; Wilks, Ivor, Asante in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Eng., 1975), 320–33Google Scholar, notes 51-77; Law, Robin, The Oyo Empire, c. 1600-c.1836 (Oxford, 1977), 170–71Google Scholar; Law, , “Dahomey and the Northwest,” Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Africaines, no. 8 (1994), 159–60.Google Scholar

71 Norris, , Memoirs, 108–09.Google Scholar

72 Labarthe, , Voyage, 148–49.Google Scholar Labarthe quotes from a report by Montaguère without naming him.

73 Dalzel, , History, xxi.Google Scholar

74 Ibid., plate II, opp. p. 54.

75 Ibid., 175-77.

76 Akinjogbin, , Dahomey, 162, 162n3, 163, 163n1.Google Scholar The documents are PRO, T 70/1162, William's Fort, Whydah, Day Book, 2, 24, 27 January 1779. See also Law, , Oyo, 167, 167n118.Google Scholar

77 Law, , “‘Amazons’,” 249.Google Scholar

78 Pires' exact phrase (Viagem, 68) is “mais de 800 mulheres: esquadrâo de sua familia, que sempre o acompanha para qualquer parte.” “Esquadrão” once designated a Portuguese infantry unit.

79 Brue, , “Voyage fait en 1843, dans le royaume de Dahomey, par M. Brue, agent du comptoir français établi à Whydah,” Revue Coloniale, 7 (septembre 1845), 63.Google Scholar Some three years before Brue, British trader Thomas Hutton visited Abomey and gauged the strength of the king's female “body-guard” at an even 1,000. That, at least, was the recollection of his uncle, William Mackintosh Hutton, who regretably lost Thomas' detailed written account of the trip, PP 1842 (551), xi.1, Report from the House of Commons Select Committee on the West Coast of Africa, Minutes of Evidence, Button, W.M., 22 July 1842, 673.Google Scholar

80 Monléon, , “Le cap des Palmes, le Dahomey, Fernando-Pô et lîle du Prince, en 1844,” Revue Coloniale, 6 (mai 1845), 66.Google Scholar

81 Forbes, , Dahomey, 2:89Google Scholar; Akinjogbin, , Dahomey, 175–86Google Scholar; Law, , “History and Legitimacy,” 445.Google Scholar

82 Forbes, , Dahomey, 2:88.Google Scholar

83 Maire, , Dahomey, plate XI, 3031.Google Scholar The object of such boiling was surely to obtain bone trophies.

84 Burton, , Mission, 112.Google Scholar

85 Ibid., 254. Burton repeated his view in a paper he read to British ethnologists in 1864: The Present State of Dahome,” Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, n.s. 3(1865), 405.Google Scholar

86 Burton, , Mission, 112n4, 254Google Scholar; idem., “Present State,” 405.

87 Wilmot, A.P.E., “Despatches from Commodore Wilmot Respecting His Visit to the King of Dahomey in December 1862 and January 1863,” Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers, Colonies: Africa 50 (Shannon, 1971), 438.Google Scholar Regarding the figure of 5,000 amazons, he appears to be quoting himself. The sexual imbalance must have been accentuated by the preference for males in the Atlantic slave trade.

88 Le Hérissé, , Ancien royaume, 325.Google Scholar

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

On the Origins of the Amazons of Dahomey*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

On the Origins of the Amazons of Dahomey*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

On the Origins of the Amazons of Dahomey*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *