The Dahomey Amazons are the only truly documented all-female front-line military unit in modern history.
This was a tough-ass group of battle hardened veterans that were feared throughout Western Africa for over two centuries. They were well known for their refusal to retreat from any fight unless ordered by their king.
They called themselves N’Nonmiton, which meant “our mothers,” but everyone else referred to them as the Dahomey Amazons. They were an all-female military regiment that fought on the front lines, protected their king and had a prominent role in the Grand Council debating kingdom policy.
It is believe that this group of women started as elephant hunters and was formed by King Houegbadja, the third King of Dahomey. The group was originally called gbeto. His son, King Agaja took this group of women and made them his personal bodyguards, armed with muskets and later formed them into a successful militia group.
Reports have girls being recruited as young as 8, some came from amongst the kings many wives and other were enlisted by their husbands or fathers when they were deemed unruly. The N’Nonmiton training was intensive and included survival skills, storming acacia-thorn defenses in military exercises and executing prisoners.
By the mid-19th century they were about a third of the entire Dahomey army and were considered by many to be superior to the male soldiers in effectiveness and bravery.
During their membership they were not allowed to have children or be part of married life, as they were legally married to the king. The regiment was also giving a semi-sacred status.
The N’Nonmiton were provided with access to positions of power and command and as such were wealthy and high ranking in the Fon society.
They had a prominent role in the Grand Council and generally supported peace with the neighboring tribe and encouraged stronger commercial relations with England. The N’Nonmiton also favored trade trade in palm oil over that of slaves; setting them at odds with their male colleagues.
The fall of the Dahomey Amazons started in 1890 when they attacked a French protectorate, which forced France to declare war. The Amazons put on a hell of a fight, but the subsequent battles against superior fire power gradually dwindled their numbers.
“Dahomey Warriors or Amazon Warriors were exhibited in France soon after their lands were taken by the French in 1890. In 1893 over fifty Africans were exhibited at London’s premier entertainment centre, the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill.” – Jefferey Green
It is believed that the last N’Nonmiton, Nawi, died in November 1979. She lived to be over 100 years old.