Health and Safety

Women Warriors: A Dahomey story

19 Dec 2017 history

Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!

As we continue exploring other francophone countries and cultures, it’s hard not to pay respects to the all women warrior military group that once protected the Kingdom of Dahomey which resided in present day Benin - a country now a part of La Francophonie. Their name? The N’Nonmiton.

So let’s get into the who, what, when, why, where and add some fun facts sprinkled in there:

disclaimer… not going in order

WHAT: An all female militant group designed to protect the King and Dahomey Kingdom from foreigners.

WHERE: The Dahomey Kingdom – For about 300 years, the Fon people of Africa, established the Dahomey Kingdom which is resided in current day Benin. It was abolished when the French annexed the territory into their colonial empire.

**WHO:** They were known as the N’Nonmiton by the Fon people (the people of the Kingdom of Dahomey) and as the Dahomey Amazons by the Europeans that encountered them. They were feared, respected and ruthless. And in many ways, if not in all ways, they were considered to be superior to their male counterparts. For instance, they were known to never retreat from battle while male warriors were supposedly punished for doing so more than once. This is why the N’Nonmiton were the chosen ferocious protectors of the Ahosu (the King in the Fon language) and repeatedly put their lives on the line for his safety. There were 5 classifications or regimens within the group, named after the weapon or purpose of the women. 1) Huntress (Gbeto in Fon): They were the gunners. In fact, many women were huntresses before joining the N’Nonmiton and their strong skills landed them in the exclusive group. 2) Riflewomen (Gulohento): They accounted for the largest portion of the warriors. They were known to be exceptionally lethal in close combat and carried spears and short swords. 3) Reapers (Nyekplohento):  These women were especially feared. Legend of their effective cruelty and sharp swords that could slice a man in half with one swipe struck fear in the hearts of their enemies. 4) Archers (Gohento): They were picked from the most impressive and steady-handed young women. As archery became less and less used, they transitioned into moving weapons and to caring for the wounded and dead soldiers. 5) Gunners (Agbalya): They accounted for 1/5 of the army and the loud sound of their guns were used as an intimidation strategy.

WHEN: During the Dahomey Kingdom reign of the 18th and 19th century until the colonization of current day Benin by the French.

WHY: As the slave trade became more and more prevalent and as wars with neighboring tribes, countries and kingdoms became imminent, the Dahomey Kingdom started to lose more and more men who could fight for the kingdom. The women were first recruited from delinquent, outsiders or captives from other neighboring countries or tribes. Others were princesses who were attracted by weapons or volunteers or those drawn from a lot. This mix matched lot of women turned into one of the most fierce and impressive women warriors in all of history.


Now that you have an introduction, let’s get into more about these women. Being a woman warrior was no easy task and was not taken lightly. They were the bodyguards of the King and lived in the royal palace with him. No one, except on special occasions, was allowed in the Royal Palace with the King except for these women and the King never went anywhere without the protection of the N’Nonmiton. So, as you can see, they were a pretty big deal. Even when they left the Royal Palace, they were held in such high respect that they were escorted by servants who made sure none of the townspeople looked at them or disturbed them. However, there was a price to pay to become a part of the women warriors. They had to leave their family, vowed to die for the King, and were sworn to celibacy. If one of them were found pregnant they could risk expulsion from the N’Nonmiton or worse, they could risk being sentenced to death. Only the King could take them as a wife or give them to male warriors who showed a certain bravery in battle. So even as the best warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom and protectors of the King, they were still considered property of the King.

The N’Nonmiton were abolished after putting up long, gruesome fighting against French colonizers, but their memory and legacy live on in tradition in Benin. These women were also known for their exceptional and meticulous performances during parades for the King. Their dancing, singing and impressive use of weapons as props proved highly influential on the Fon people. Even so, that in present-day Benin, their dances and rituals are still performed in their memory. And women are still a part of the armed forces in Benin in part to carry on the legacy of these devoted, powerful, cutthroat women warriors.

Jane Eagleton