Black Panther, Dora Milaje

Meet the Dahomey Amazons, the inspiration for the Dora Milaje

Contributed by
Nov 14, 2018

All this month, SYFY FANGRRLS is celebrating Warrior Women Month, sharing the stories of female warriors in folklore, fantasy, and genre from around the world. These women — real and imagined alike — inspire us to make change and fight for what's right, no matter the cost.

Many of us who watched Black Panther were absolutely blown away by the female warrior troupe called the Dora Milaje. The women are sworn to guard the King of Wakanda, who, at the moment, is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). We meet Okoye (Danai Gurira), Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and a War Dog and former Dora Milaje member Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). Women do fight alongside the men in Wakanda, but the elite guard is entirely made up of women. 

The Dora Milaje first appeared in Black Panther #1 in 1998. They are called the “wives of the king,” and sometimes that is actually true, but the takeaway from the Dora Milaje is that they are fierce fighters and the best of the best. The group is partially based on the Dahomey Amazons, a group of warrior women from the Kingdom of Dahomey, located in West Africa in the current Republic of Benin. In honor of November being Warrior Women Month, let’s meet the real-life all-female fighting team.

The Dahomey Amazons were so named by Europeans, but at home, they're known as Nonmiton, which means "our mothers.” The Fon group of warrior women lasted until the late 19th century, and there are photographs of the group. Though we don’t know for certain, King Houegbadja in the 17th century was said to have started the Nonmiton as a group of elephant hunters called the gbeto. His son King Agaja who ruled during the early 18th century got together a group of female bodyguards who used muskets to help defeat the kingdom of Savi in 1727. There is a story that says King Agaja’s older sister Queen Hangbe was the creator of the group, but that is not confirmed, and there are some historians who don’t believe she existed.

The group was also known as ahosi, or the king’s wives, something that we see echoed in the origin of the Dora Milaje. They are technically the king’s wives as well, or at least the group from which he would pick a wife. Dora Milaje means “adored ones,” and they’re “wives-in-training.” When we see them in early comics, they’re wearing short skirts and heels, though they’re still deadly. The Black Panther film makes a joke about this in the scene where Okoye and Nakia go undercover to a club and dress in dresses, heels, and wigs. 

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The Dahomey Amazons had rules stating that they couldn’t marry (they were already married to the king) or have children, and many of them were virgins, according to Stanley Alpern, who wrote about them in the only English language study of the group. It was forbidden to touch these women. There is a story, likely a rumor among the French army, that tells of these warrior women posing as average Dahomean women after the French defeated the army and waiting for their captors to sleep. Then they used the soldier’s bayonets to cut out their throats.

They had rigorous physical training including wrestling, wall-climbing and days without provisions. They fought in the two Franco Dahomean wars, though they weren’t able to beat them. After the wars, many of them did marry and have children, though there are reports of the transition being difficult. The last of the Nomiton either died in the 1940s or in the 1970s depending on which story you read, but their legend lives on. They’re the only documented all-female warrior team, as there is no hard evidence for the ancient Amazons, whom the Europeans reference in their name for them. 

The group has been referenced in pop culture before, from the Werner Herzog film Cobra Verde, to the PC game Empire: Total War to the Stieg Larsson novel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

The Dahomey Amazons are fascinating, and seeing their legacy on the big screen is a powerful message for young girls. Let’s hope we get to see some of the LGBTQ storylines from the comics in Black Panther 2, as well as—dare we hope—Chanté Giovanni Brown, aka Queen Divine Justice. Are you guys excited to see the Dora Milaje return in Black Panther 2? What part do you think they’ll play in Avengers 4? Which ancient warrior women do you most admire? Let us know in the comments. 

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