Dahomey’s Warrior Women
Speaking of West Africa, the Dahomey Warrior Women involves a fascinating history that spans nearly 200 years. It was during this time that the elite squad of female warriors fought and died for the border rights and inter-tribal issues in the ancient kingdom of Dahomey.
These women, who outranked their male counterparts, were given far more privileges, including the ability to come and go from the palaces as they pleased (unlike the men). They were so revered for their warrior prowess, The Smithsonian explains, that men were taught to keep their distance:
“Recruiting women into the Dahomean army was not especially difficult, despite the requirement to climb thorn hedges and risk life and limb in battle. Most West African women lived lives of forced drudgery. Gezo’s female troops lived in his compound and were kept well supplied with tobacco, alcohol and slaves – as many as 50 to each warrior, according to the noted traveler Sir Richard Burton, who visited Dahomey in the 1860s. And “when amazons walked out of the palace,” notes Alpern, “they were preceded by a slave girl carrying a bell. The sound told every male to get out of their path, retire a certain distance, and look the other way.” To even touch these women meant death.”
Yet as colonialist ambitions grew in the region, the Dahomey female warriors eventually grew sparse. Fierce combat missions to crush the independent kingdom eventually succeeded, and in the 1940s, it is said that the last of the female warriors died.
Shagrat Al Durr
Many of us have no problem remembering who Louis IX is. But do we really know about the woman who crushed his crusade attempt in Egypt? Shagrat Al Durr was known as the woman ‘behind the throne.’ Her husband was a great leader, but when he grew ill and died, she hid his death and continued advising troops on her own. Eventually, his death was discovered, but Al Durr did not just shrink away. No, she took the throne herself and in doing so, sent a devastating blow to would-be conquerors.
However, at the time Egypt was under the rule of the Caliph of Baghdad. Unhappy with a female running the show, the Caliph sent over his own ruler, Aibak. Shagrat reluctantly agreed to step down, but refused to let it end there. She seduces Aibak, marries him and because she had far more knowledge of administration and rule, essentially ran the empire for another seven years.
It wasn’t until Aibak decided to take another wife, something that Shagrat simply could not abide, that the whole plot began to unravel. She masterminded the murder of Aibak, but was discovered shortly after. She was beaten to death and thrown into the river. However, today her honor and memory lives on as her bones were later transported to her own namesake mosque in Egypt.