It’s not exactly a pretty story, saturated as it is with slavery, colonialism and war, but it turns out that the Kingdom of Dahomey maintained an elite force of warrior women, the N’Nonmiton, in the 19th century. The comic book linked above tells their story, and these were definitely not put on for show — they were an active fighting force.
The Dahomey Warriors were known to be especially skillful, competitive, and brave. Their drills and military parades were always performed to dancing, music, and songs and their weapons were sometimes used as choreographic props. As expressed in their songs, their goal was to outshine men in every respect, and European travelers observed that they were better organized, swifter and much braver than male soldiers. As such, the King would send them to war as opposed to their male counterparts and European soldiers would also hesitate to kill them as they were often young women.
More details at the Smithsonian.
Dave Grain says
I’m not being deliberately obtuse or contrarian, but are you saying that having an all-woman army is somehow more admirable than an all-male one? That this is something women should aspire to in order to achieve equality: having guns and killing people?
What a particularly offensive time (for a US person) to be glorifying killing.
PZ Myers says
I guess, then, you’re being unthinkingly obtuse. I said nothing about glorifying war: in fact, my first sentence begins, “It’s not exactly a pretty story, saturated as it is with slavery, colonialism and war”. Did you read it? Or did you just jump in with a stupid comment?
Man, you are so close to being banned for dumbness.
Dave Grain says
Well fine, I’ll shut up for now then. I just don’t see what pointing out that there has been an African army of women does to promote the cause of Africans’ or women’s equality. And to tie it to a movie adds nothing to either the truth nor the entertaining piece of fiction many watched this weekend. I cannot help but leave with the impression that you see the Dora Milaje and N’Nonmiton as entities to look up to and so, by extension, that guns and war are “cool”.
To be banned for “dumbness” from a blog where Nerd of Redhead is a respected commenter? The very idea seems utterly impossible and incredibly amusing.
PZ Myers says
Buh-byeee, Dave Grain.
Truly awesome, and a history I was unaware of too. Thanks! I couldn’t make the movie today, we’re headed straight to the theater after my chemo on Wednesday, so very excited for this.
Thank goodness, I don’t think I’d ever seen a post from that shitstain that wasn’t like “lol see i can make triggered jokes too mom!1!” humor or just like, openly being regressive.
Of course poopyhead only posts about things he supports! That is way he’s recently posted about Andrew Wakefield, James Demore, Brien Foerster, Peter Thiel, and the NRA, just to mention the approving posts I currently see listed in the sidebar.
I’ll shut up now, but first I’ll spew a paragraph of ignorance and childish whining onto my keyboard, and some gratuitous backbiting for spice.
At no point is a post saying ‘turns out this character from a movie was a reference to actual history’ a glofirication of that history. What a disingenuous shit.
Here are couple (freely admittedly airy) hypothetical points of pure speculation and (equally admittedly) appalling cynicism:
*On average women are less interested in warfare than men (like they gravitate more on average towards professions like nursing etc.), but outliers exist and minorities can be usefully harnessed. If woman wants to soldier and she can hack the job, she’s a useful resource unless the negatives of her presence outweigh the benefits. But that applies to everyone.
*Allowing outlier people exceptional pathways to “non-traditional” careers is a useful safety valve for any society and culture: This allows such outliers to work for the society and culture instead of against them. Also see the phenomena of “sworn virgins” of Albania.
*Fraternization in ranks is a real issue that can really tear apart unit cohesion, which gets your own people killed. And worse, fail their missions. A Single-sex formation makes this problem much more easily managed. As do measures like ritual marriage that equals oath of celibacy. Homosexuals in ranks can cause same problems.
*Women-only units can be highly useful for a ruler in a deeply patriarchal society. While they can be effective as soldiers and bodyguards, they’re much less politically dangerous as it is nearly impossible for them to gather requisite political support for coup d’etat. This is at least one reason why Muammar Gaddafi had his amazon bodyguards.
*The Old saying “God created men, Samuel Colt made them equal” also applies with vengeance for women with their (on-average) weaker physiology. Note that N’Nonmiton were musketeers.
In “Les Passengers du Vent” (in the 2nd or 3rd book, not sure), of François Bourgeon, there are a depiction of some women soldiers of Dahomey, in the XVIII century.
Warning: “Les Passengers du Vent”, despite being a comic book, is full of violence, slavery, torture, rape, death, all pretty graphic, is really NSFW.
Is it like a thing for you that when you air your daydreams online you enjoy to tell people you assume whole swathes of the population are less capable and a drain on society? Wow, what interesting speculation you get on to, we learned so much about all your biases and how society would be great if women knew their place!
(See, I can do cynical takes too.)
PZ Myers says
If you actually follow the links, you’ll learn that the Kingdom of Dahomey built its power on the wealth of the slave trade — they expanded to take over neighboring regions, captured the people who lived there, and took them to the coast to sell to European slave merchants. Some of the warrior women were captured slaves, too. Those women were thrown into battles with the French and were butchered by superior weaponry. It’s counter to European thinking that women could form an elite fighting force, but there they were; and it was not a happy story, any more than the people who idolize Delta Force or the Rangers are encouraging a happy story.