Dahomey Women’s Descriptions

Growing up in Africa, I was always shown and told about Rwanda’s culture and what it was in the past days when my grandparents were growing up. Going down in generations, my parents would always tell me how the old days are now different from today’s time. I was always curious to know how my mother grew up and what was her role in the society as a woman. She told me that women were very considered to stay at home doing housework while men would go to work. Women were and many are still considered to be weak and not knowledgeable like men; which prevents them from embracing their potential like they should. Today, I am very glad that many other women are also able to embrace their potentials in getting jobs. However, though most women would stay at home, there is an exception – Amazon Women!!! I would talk about many difference of the then and now, but today, I am interested in talking about the women in Dahomey and what they looked like especially how they were described and portrayed internationally.

I found this interesting newspaper of the 1890 that was titled “Dahomey Amazons to visit Europe”. You might be wondering what or who Dahomey Amazons are? Well, let’s get into this. Dahomey Amazons were the warriors, especially women, protecting the old kingdom of Dahomey (now called the the Republic Of Benin).  These were fearless women, courageous, and strong to protect and guide the kingdom from threats. Well, you might wonder why this is surprising!!! I would say that it was, is, and will always be rare to see women warriors protecting their land especially because women are usually stereotyped to be weak and fearful. But, now the Amazons were great and already surpassed that stereotype as mentioned before.

Let us dig deeper into that 1890 article! The Amazons were to visit Berlin in Germany. Sounds exciting, isn’t it? These included 25 Amazon women and the 10 selected male companions. The New Times describes them saying ” The women are coffee brown in color, slender but not handsome”. Wait a minute!!! Did they just say “not handsome”?? I guess so! However, why would such an article include such a feature? It is very possible that the international press viewed them as dangerous and automatically associated their beauty to something unimportant or rejectable. The article goes on saying ” They wear short blue woolen frocks reacting to the knee, with a kind of breast lappet upheld by straps crossed over the shoulder” (New York Times, 1890). I believe that that was a unique uniform or something that symbolized their culture. I am glad to see them wear that even as they prepare to visit Germany. This shows that no matter the places they would go to, they did not try to imitate the styles of clothing of that particular place. (Rock your traditional cloth ON 🙂 )

A woman warrior with a head of a conquered man. The outfit looks fierce and the woman is very serious!!!

The article also mentions that women faces were tattooed and having ornaments on caps covering their heads (New York Times, 1890). Please, take a look at that picture above and I hope you get to picture an example of an Amazon woman. However, I don’t see how she isn’t beautiful like how the women were portrayed not being handsome!!! Yes, she has a serious face like a person who is focused on something but it does not make her not beautiful. Anyway, the article keeps talking about the Amazons rituals when they go to war which begins with a roll call and different songs made by women in their communities. I believe that that was what encouraged their confidence for the battle.

Behanzin/Amazon women in Dahomey Kingdom

However, something lacking in the newspaper is how they arrived in Berlin and how they were welcomed. I would imagine that with the European styles, they would first consider the Amazons as uncivilized because of their traditional clothes of war. The newspaper is really lacking the voices of the Amazons about their excitement for the journey or what they did not like in Europe. I would have really appreciated to see the Amazon’s voices in the newspaper.

I really enjoyed learning more about the Amazon women warriors . Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and that you got to learn about the Amazon women and how they were described by the outside world like New York Times.


From the Pall Mall Gazette.New York Times (1857-1922); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]23 Oct 1890: 4.