The Agojie are an all-female army that existed in West Africa from the 1600s to the end of the 1800s as part of the military forces in the Kingdom of Dahomey. They were referred to as Dahomey Mino (“our mothers,” in the local language Fon), while the Europeans called them “the Dahomey Amazons,” recalling the female warriors from Greek Mythology. It’s a true story that many discovered in 2022 after the release of the movie The Woman King, which reconstructed the period when the Agojie flourished under the reign of King Ghezo. In this article, we will discover the story and the meaning of this unique army.
You can watch the official trailer for The Woman King here on Youtube (and here you’ll discover the song in the background).
Who are the Agojie? The true story of the Dahomey Warriors that inspired The Woman King
Agojie is the name of the all-female army existing from the 17th to the 19th century in the Kingdom of Dahomey, in West Africa (in the region that today we call Benin). The meaning of the name “Agojie,” in the local language Fon, is “King’s wives”: many of the women composing the army were legally married to the King, although their training required they would not be intimate with any man (including the King) and they would not have children. The men in the Kingdom called them “Mino,” which means “our mothers.”
According to history, the Kingdom of Dahomey started recruiting women into the army around 1650. Initially, the reason was that Dahomey had a significant number of casualties among men, and the conflicts with the other African states required to increase the numerosity of the army: King Houegbadja, therefore, decided that women should be part of the army too. Over the years, the Agojie started to include women who were given as gifts to the King by fathers and husbands who didn’t like their behaviour: as we see in the movie The Woman King, little girls like Nawi enter the Agojie at a young age.
The training of the Agojie army was tough, based on extreme physical exercise and pain endurance. This unique training made the Agojie warriors exceptionally skilled in battle. During the reign of King Ghezo, from 1818 to 1858, the Agojie counted thousands of warriors, representing a third of the army in the Kingdom of Dahomey.
The Agojie often participated in wars against the Oyo empire (which also appears in the movie The Woman King) and the European countries. As the African American registry explains here, the French Foreign Legion praised them for their “incredible courage and audacity,” considering them physically superior to many European male soldiers.
For centuries, the Agojie warriors had a predominant role in the Dahomey society, being also part of the Grand Council that took the political decisions of the Kingdom. Despite their physical skills, the Agojie army was defeated in 1982, during the second Franco-Dahomean War, due to the superiority of the French weaponry, which had longer bayonets. The hand-to-hand battles in that year wiped out most part of the Agojie army, and after that war, the Kingdom of Dahomey became a French protectorate.
Nawi, the young Agojie warrior that becomes one of the best elements of the army in The Woman King, really existed: she’s the last survivor among the Agojie. As this old article by The Best of Africa explains, she revealed she really fought the war against the French in 1892. Nawi died in 1979, aged over 100 years.
The true story of the Agojie warriors is a fascinating piece of African history, leading to one of the very few documented female armies that ever existed.
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