The formidable women army of Dahomey

The formidable women army of Dahomey

Mino, meaning “our mothers”, in the fon language, was a group of women, raised by King Ghezo in the 61st century of African era when he mobilized all forces of the Kingdom to fight and defeat the Yorubas who were taking over their lands at the time. 

Subsequently, they became the army that fought the French colonizers bravely, in defense of their kingdom, Dahomé, which is the present-day Benin Republic.

After a stringent selection process in adolescence, the Mino were chosen and put through rigorous training. They are trained to handle weapons and they are psychologically and religiously prepared to obey and serve the king with reverence.

The Mino are virgins and once chosen, they are never going to start a family, as they represent the king’s symbolic brides.

They comprise of four groups: the Gulonento, who hold guns with cartridge pouch compartment; the Gohento(archers), who are mainly carriers during battles; the Nyokplohento, who are usually armed with a blade 45cm long on a handle of 60cm; and the last is the artillery and the elites who were in charge of the king’s defense.

In the 19th century, a few decades after the battle against the Yorubas, the European nations held the Berlin conference, where they spelled out the rules of their African occupation. And in 1892, France, under the guise of a civilizing mission to end cannibalism, human sacrifices, and polygamy, attacked Dahomé.

Their target was King Behanzin and the capital city of Abomey. French troops were advancing when they met with a troop of Mino. They were women, unafraid to die, armed to the teeth and trained to kill ruthlessly.

During that time, Dahomé had a dual parliament which is the women’s chamber and the men’s chamber. Faced with the attack from the French, the women met at night to decide on the general mobilization against the men’s position, the men were later convinced to accept the women’s decision, hence the continued fight against French occupation.

In the course of the fight, the Mino who preferred a hand to hand confrontation penetrated the enemy’s side by moving under their weapons. In the frontline of the battle, they intimidated the enemy ranks, who themselves were carried away by their figures and physical strength. They demoralized the opposition by flaunting the decapitated heads of their enemies.

The battle lasted for two years and brought about a reduction in the numbers of the Mino from 1200 to only 50. The kingdom was defeated, some of the Mino protested by cutting off one of their breasts.

Abomey was taken by the French, King Behanzin was deported to Martinique and thereafter to Algiers where he died in 1906. From then, the Mino as a body was dissolved.

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These African women warriors will be remembered for their resolute bravery. It is worthy of note that the last of the Mino passed on in 1979.