Kenyan-Mexican actress and Black Panther star Lupita Nyong’o has landed a new role that will require her to trace the real lives of the all-female legendary army “The Dahomey Warriors” in a documentary for British Broadcaster Channel 4.
According to Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor, Specialist Factual Shaminder Nahal, “Lupita Nyong’o’s investigation into the real story of the all-female army is thrilling, haunting and emotional.
“It’s amazing the true story of these kick-ass female fighters isn’t more widely known – and in telling it, the film challenges dominant narratives about race, women and power. With some surprises along the way.”
“This was a unique opportunity to combine Lupita Nyong’o s passion and forensic interest in the power and origin of stories with grassroots research in Benin.
“The Agojie women were recruited by their kings across three centuries and fought in huge numbers in highly-trained battalions. Women have frequently been written out of history, and powerful women fetishized – this is a case in point. Lupita Nyong’o asks searing questions about power play in history and who tells whose story,” Bettany Hughes, Creative Director for SandStone Global, the producer of the documentary, said.
Last year, it was announced that Nyong’o will be playing alongside Viola Davis in the film The Woman King, which details the lives of the all-female warriors.
The all-female army, known as the ‘Amazons’, was traditionally called the N’Nonmiton, which means “our mothers” in Fon, the language of the Fon people of Dahomey, now in present-day Benin.
Some European historians and observers called them the Dahomey Amazons as they reminded them of the mystical and powerful all women’s army called Amazons in Greek mythology.
According to a beautiful comic by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the Dahomey Warriors first appeared as part of the entourage of the King of Dahomey’s bodyguard in the seventeenth century.
They were to ensure his personal protection and guard the royal palace. Soon, the women’s number and prominence grew – from a troop of 800 to 6000. They would later go to fight in battles against other kingdoms as Dahomey began to expand, lost their male soldiers in war, and were threatened and attacked by the French.
The Dahomey Warriors were known to be especially skilful, 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 travellers 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.
The women also enjoyed privileged relations with the king, swearing to celibacy and living in the royal palace, which only the king and his entourage had access to.
As a testament to their power, women servants rang little bells to warn the people of the women soldiers’ presence and inhabitants were required to move aside, bow and avert their eyes.
The Dahomey women’s army only became defunct when the Dahomey kingdom fell at the end of the 19th century. According to UNESCO, after two months of fighting and previously broken accords between the French and Dahomey, the king of Dahomey took flight and set fire to most of the royal palaces, marking an end of the Kingdom of Dahomey and its army of women in 1892.
Dahomey then became a French possession between German Togo and British Nigeria, until Benin declared independence in 1960.
The Dahomey women are truly a testament to the real-life story of the African women depicted in Black Panther and will be elaborately depicted in ‘The Woman King’ as Davis plays Nanisca, general of the all-woman army while Nyong’o plays Nawi, Nanisca’s daughter.
Together, the dynamic duo battles the French and near-by tribes who threaten the Amazon’s livelihood and glory through enslavement and violence.