MINO COLLECTIVE + DAHOMEY AMAZONS
We’ve all heard about the terrifying Greek mythical female warrior tribe – the Amazons, but you’ve probably never heard about the ‘Dahomey Amazons’ who were unquestionably real. They were a brave and terrifying all female militia who fiercely fought and defended the republic of Benin, then known as the kingdom of Dahomey and were feared throughout Western Africa for over 250 years.
Now think about this for a moment… Throughout history active warfare has mainly been reserved for the realms of men, women participating in war have generally been in a leading capacity such as a Queen defending her kingdom. A woman actually participating in active warfare was very rare, to this day this band of bad-ass women still remains the only real life army militia to exclusively be populated and lead by women! Now that’s pretty awesome if you ask me, I’m all for girl power – although in this case these women were ruthless killers with a motto of “Conquer or Die” which means that you’d probably would have ‘legged-it’ if you ever laid eyes on them.
So who were these ass-kicking women?
Their male counterparts gave them the name Mino which means mother in the local Fon language, even though the Dahomey Amazon were pretty far removed from what we consider a mother to be – the image of a mother is not directly a blood thirsty, machete wielding, head severing warrior..
The Mino warriors were recruited in a number of way, some of them were volunteers from all walks of lives, poor women who were interested in the glory and high status of the Mino life, royal concubines who rather chop people’s heads off than cater to the needs of the King, others were sent there as punishment by their fathers or husbands for being a trouble makers and ‘too misbehaved’.
The women in the Mino army were forbidden to get married (many of them were legally married to the king) or get pregnant because that meant that they couldn’t fight. Many of the women were virgins and had a semi-sacred status – the crime for any man to romantically be involved with a Mino worrier was instant death! I bet this made dating quite hard and put ‘forbidden love’ in a completely different ball game.
In 1861 an Italian missionary named Francesco Borghero visiting Dahomey exclaimed that “to possess an army of warrioresses whose valour was recognised as quite superior to that of men was privilege exclusively reserved to the king of Dahomey” and in 1862 a British Navel officer named Arthur Wilmot stated that the women were “far superior to the men in everything – in appearance, in dress, in figure, in activity, in their performance as soldiers, and in bravery” (Stanley B. Alpern, 1998).
Just like women of today in heavily male dominated occupations the Mino worriers knew that if they were going to be taken seriously both at home and in the battle field they needed to bring their A game and be twice as hard as anyone out there – and they were. Going through gruesomely hard life or death training they were constantly fighting for the glory and prestige with the male units– and it paid off the Mino worriers were clearly winning and ‘slaying’ in all aspects of their vocation.
Now what do the Dahomey Amazons have to do with Shea butter??
If you look beyond the ruthless killing and lynchings the Mino women are truly inspirational, in a sphere where we women has always been judged to be inferior to men they excelled and were brilliant only to be defeated by French colonialist due to their riches, superior guns and cannons.
The name Mino Collective is inspired by the Mino warriors, our shea producing women are bad asses as well, and thankfully they don’t run around chopping people’s heads off (:
They are hard working, resilient, beautiful women that’s more often than not the back bone of their families.
We want each woman we collaborate with, their families and communities to be empowered socially and economically. That’s why we buy our shea butter at a fair price and with every sold product part of the profit will go to community projects decided together with the women. You can read more about our work here.
Additionally, I’m pretty sure that the Dahomey amazons loved shea butter just as much as we do. In Benin women have handcrafted shea butter using traditional techniques for hundreds of years, I am convinced that just like all the other women the Mino warriors used it for candle making, cooking, natural remedies such as healing of wounds, insect bites and of course for its moisturising properties.
In Africa dancing and singing is an important part of our culture and it is a way of building morale. The women groups I work with sing and dance as they work and it is a joy and delight to listen to.
This was also true for the Dahomey amazons, they sang when they trained, they sang when they marched and they sang when they were going to war, these are two of the songs that survived the demise of the kingdom
The women in Kikélé singing and dancing after completing the work day
This was also true for the Dahomey amazons, they sang when they trained, they sang when they marched and they sang when they were going to war, these are two of the songs that survived the demise of the kingdom:
Arise soldiers of Glele,
The powerful king of Abomey.
The cold and dry north wind
Has reached into the palace of Glele,
The powerful king of Abomey.
Yes the harmattan* is cracking
The wood of our bows,
The tensed cord is ready to break.
The marches and rivers have dried up,
Opening the way to combat and victory
For the fearless amazons.
We need slaves to turn the soil
Of Dahomey, victims to sacrifice
On the tomb of the kings of Abomey,
And blood, waves of blood
>On which we will sail
On the day of his triumph
The bark of our king,
Our powerful Glele.
*Dry and dusty wind which blowes from the Sahara Desert
We are created to defend Dahomey,
This pot of honey, object of desire.
Can the country where so much courage blooms
Surrender its riches to strangers?
As long as we live, any people would be mad
To try to impose its law on Dahomey
The women’s group in Bassila singing whilst working
If you want to learn more about their story you can read the book Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey written by Stanley B Alpern or the article Dahomey’s Women Warriors at the Smitsonian.
Have you ever heard of the Dahomey Amazons? What do you think about them? Would love to hear your thought please leave a comment below.
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