The Ahosi warrior leader, Ms. Seh Dong Hong Beh
The Ahosi (King’s wives) or Mino (our mothers) was an all-female military regiment of the Fon nation of the Kingdom of Benin. Misconceptions fueled by European narratives refer to the soldiers as “Amazons,” based on what they thought to be a similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia. By doing this they were deliberately romanticising the might of these women, to denounce the military prowess of an unknown African military formation.
They were a military corps of women appointed to serve in battles under the direction of the Fon king. They emerged during the Eighteenth Century (some scholars say 17th Century) and were finally suppressed during the 1890s. The Ahosi were chosen from among the nominal wives of the king. Estimates of the number of women soldiers vary by accounts, yet some scholars believe the numbers to have ranged over time from several hundred to a few thousand women soldiers.
The Fon women’s army had three main wings: the right and left wings, and the elite center wing or Fanti. Each of these wings had five subgroups: the artillery women, the elephant huntresses, the musket-bearing frontline group, the razor women, and the archers. They served in battles in conjunction with male troops.
Well trained and highly skilled, the Ahosi are said to have been intensely vicious. They were deadly fighters and are said to have specialised in decapitating their opponents during a fighting sequence. Even though killing has no rules, it seems that the manner in which the Ahosi went about their business was supposedly unwomanly.
The legendary Ms. Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh is a revered warrior leader of the Ahosi. In 1851 she led an army of 6,000 strong in the mighty battle of Abeokuta against the Egba, who had equipped themselves with European artillery and guns. This would impose a military power advantage for them as the Ahosi used bows and arrows, spears and other military inferior weapons. But the Ahosi strategies and simple will to fight for their liberty would overcome the Egba armies, repelling them. But this came at a cost, leaving only about 1,200 surviving. European encroachment into West Africa gained pace as the scramble for Africa gained momentum, thanks to the French and the Belgians. In 1890, then King of Benin Behanzin used the Ahosi together with the conventional male soldiers in the wars against the French forces during the First Franco-Dahomean War. The French would lose many battles against Benin’s forces, primarily because of the almost godly like fighting guile of these Ahosi warriors.
The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Ahosi used flintlock muskets. They also used cannon, and later modern artillery and machine guns. Subject to celibacy under pain of death, they could not marry once they became the Ahosi nor could they have children. In addition to their military duties, they also had daily occupations within the royal household. These occupations included indigo dyeing, weaving and selling mats, palm oil production and distribution, as well as sewing and embroidering cotton cloth.
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