The third king of Dahomey, King Houegbadja ruled from 1645 to 1685, and is created with creating the legendary all-woman Fon of Dahomey. The original purpose of this all female regime was to become ‘gbeto’, or elephant hunters for the king. Around the early 1700’s during the reign of King Agadja, the women were trained to become a unit of guards for the king. They were also called The Mino, which means ‘Our Mothers’ in the native Fon language of Benin. The legend of the Mino began to grow during the battle at Savi in 1727. The women showed their impressive skills which helped the Fon people gain a victory over their opponents. Their presence increased the size and the intimidation factor of the kings Army.
Great emphasis was placed on developing the Mino warriors during the reign of King Ghezo from 1818 to 1858. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade posed a great threat to the Dahomian way of life; the king was set on protecting his people. King Ghezo increased the military budget to develop a well-trained and equipped army. By the mid 1900’s the size of the Mino army grew to 6,000 women who were both free women and prisoners of war. The women had to sacrifice marriage and parent-hood while serving in the army; ironically they were considered the wives of the king. Their training regimen was rigorous and designed to hone any aggressive behavior the women held. They learned survival skills, discipline, pain tolerance and proper execution of their enemies. Much prestige was given to the women because of their service and their bravery. They can be compared to our modern day celebrities.
The Mino were more than warriors they were also involved in the Grand Council of the Dahomey people. They were involved in talking peace with neighboring nations and the trade of palm oil with England. As the threat of the slave trade moved closer to Dahomey, war broke out between Dahomey and France in 1890. Despite the size and fierceness of the Mino women and the Dahomian Army, they were defeated by the French and their superior weaponry. This resulted in Dahomey becoming a French colony, drastically changing the life of the people. This defeat was also the point of dismemberment of the legendary Mino warriors. The last surviving Mino warrior named Mawi died in 1979.
The Mino of Dahomey was considered the women Spartans of Benin. Their skill, size, and intimidation factor gained them victories before they stepped on the battle field. They crushed the idea of women being the weaker sex. They took roles that were traditionally held for men and became legends. The Mino were more intimidating than their male counterparts. These women were the special forces of the Dahomian army. Often compared to the mythical Amazonian women, The Mino were actual historical figures. The legendary Mino Warriors of Dahomey, we stand your shoulders.
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