Friday, July 11, 2008

Good Read: Warrior Women: The Amazons Of Dahomey And The Nature Of War

I like history books in particularly African history but the best ones are not from the United States which, outside of purchasing slaves, has had very limited involvement with Africa when compared to the Europeans and Arabs who have been up and down the continent and written extensively about it.

While looking for something to read I came across this book by Robert B. Edgerton Warrior Women: The Amazons Of Dahomey And The Nature Of War

The title and subject had me hook so I bit.

From the inside flap.

Although warfare is typically conducted by men, in various places and at various times women have fought bravely and well, and in the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 19th century, they formed the elite corps of a successful army. Many European visitors to Dahomey commented favorably on their military bearing, finding them more impressive in discipline and maneuver than male Dahomean soldiers. When France invaded Dahomey in the early 1890s, their superior weapons won the war, but all those French officers and men who wrote about their bloody battles against Dahomey declared not only that these women warriors were superior to male Dahomean soldiers, but also that they were the equals of the French. Robert B. Edgerton describes the history of these "Amazons" (as they became known) and their recruitment, training, and battle experience. Of particular interest to scholars interested in culture and gender today, these women believed that in order for them to carry out their martial roles, they had to transform themselves into men. How this was done, how the Amazons lived and fought, and what their experiences might mean for the understanding of women and warfare both in the past and the present are the subjects of Warrior Women.

It was a very good read and I managed to knock it down in one day.

But it left me hungry later for more like Chinese food, I taught the author could have gave more details and background history on all sides, in this case he was a little to focus, if you can believe, for a historian.

Here is some more from Wikipedia

King Houegbadja (who ruled from 1645 to 1685), the third King of Dahomey, is said to have originally started the group which would become the Amazons as a corps of royal bodyguards after building a new palace at Abomey. Houegbadja's son King Agadja (ruling from 1708 to 1732) developed these bodyguards into a militia and successfully used them in Dahomey's defeat of the neighbouring kingdom of Savi in 1727. European merchants recorded their presence, as well as similar female warriors amongst the Ashanti. For the next hundred years or so, they gained reputation as fearless warriors. Though they fought rarely, they usually acquitted themselves well in battle.

The group of female warriors was referred to as Ahosi, meaning "Our Mothers" in the Fon language by the male army of Dahomey.[1] From the time of King Ghezo (ruling from 1818 to 1858), Dahomey became increasingly militaristic. Ghezo placed great importance on the army and increased its budget and formalized its structures. The Amazons were rigorously trained, given uniforms, and equipped with Danish guns (obtained via the slave trade). By this time the Amazons consisted of between 4000 and 6000 women, about a third of the entire Dahomey army.

European encroachment into west Africa gained pace during the latter half of the 19th century, and in 1890 King Behanzin started fighting French forces in the course of the First Franco-Dahomean War. According to Holmes, many of the French soldiers fighting in Dahomey hesitated before shooting or bayoneting the Amazons. The resulting delay led to many of the French casualties. Ultimately, bolstered by the Foreign Legion, and armed with superior weaponry, including machine guns, the French inflicted casualties that were ten times worse on the Dahomey side. After several battles, the French prevailed. The Legionnaires later wrote about the "incredible courage and audacity" of the Amazons.

The last surviving Amazon died in 1979.

I recommend it as a good beach chair read.