Fascinating - on the Dahomey “Amazons” (Female Soldiers of the 19th century)
The Dahomean state became widely known for its corps of female soldiers. They were organized around the year 1729 to fill out the army and make it look larger in battle, armed only with banners. The women reportedly behaved so courageously they became a permanent corps. In the beginning the soldiers were criminals pressed into service rather than being executed. Eventually, however, the corps became respected enough that King Ghezo ordered every family to send him their daughters, with the most fit being chosen as soldiers. Richard Francis Burton commented on the “masculine physique of the women, enabling them to compete with men in enduring toil, hardship and privations,” and Alfred Ellis concurred that the female soldiers, “endured all the toil and performed all the hard labour.”[11] The women seem to have in fact considered themselves transformed into men, socially if not physically. At a parade in 1850, in which over 2,000 female soldiers participated, one of them began a speech by saying, “As the blacksmith takes an iron bar and by fire changes its fashion, so we have changed our nature. We are no longer women, we are men.”[12] About two-thirds of the soldiers were unmarried, and Burton noted a “…corps of prostitutes kept for the use of the Amazon-soldieresses.”[11]

Fascinating - on the Dahomey “Amazons” (Female Soldiers of the 19th century)

The Dahomean state became widely known for its corps of female soldiers. They were organized around the year 1729 to fill out the army and make it look larger in battle, armed only with banners. The women reportedly behaved so courageously they became a permanent corps. In the beginning the soldiers were criminals pressed into service rather than being executed. Eventually, however, the corps became respected enough that King Ghezo ordered every family to send him their daughters, with the most fit being chosen as soldiers. Richard Francis Burton commented on the “masculine physique of the women, enabling them to compete with men in enduring toil, hardship and privations,” and Alfred Ellis concurred that the female soldiers, “endured all the toil and performed all the hard labour.”[11] The women seem to have in fact considered themselves transformed into men, socially if not physically. At a parade in 1850, in which over 2,000 female soldiers participated, one of them began a speech by saying, “As the blacksmith takes an iron bar and by fire changes its fashion, so we have changed our nature. We are no longer women, we are men.”[12] About two-thirds of the soldiers were unmarried, and Burton noted a “…corps of prostitutes kept for the use of the Amazon-soldieresses.”[11]

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