Inside the world's only all-female tribe that inspired Black Panther

Emily Brown

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Inside the world's only all-female tribe that inspired Black Panther

Featured Image Credit: Entertainment Pictures / Old Books Images / Alamy

Marvel's Black Panther is, like most superhero films, largely based in fiction, but its epic all-female military group does draw inspiration from a real-life army.

The Dora Milaje is tasked with protecting the king and the nation of Wakanda, and appeared in the 2018 Marvel film after first being introduced into the universe in the Black Panther comics by Christopher Priest.

The all-female group is described by Priest as 'Deadly Amazonian high school karate chicks', but while they themselves are fictional, it is clear they take inspiration from the African military corps of Dahomey, West Africa, which is now The Republic of Benin.

Black Panther's all-female army was inspired by the Dahomey Amazons. Credit: Marvel Studios
Black Panther's all-female army was inspired by the Dahomey Amazons. Credit: Marvel Studios

The all-female group was dubbed the 'Dahomey Amazons' by the French following its emergence, which is thought to have come in the 17th century. King Ghezo, the ruler of Dahomey from 1818 to 1858, officially integrated the women into the army out of necessity, when men were lacking across the kingdom due to war and the European slave trade.

Women in the army were named based on their weapons expertise and the unit to which they were assigned, and by the end of the 19th century it's estimated 4,000 women were part of the military ranks.

In The Women Soldiers of Dahomey, author Sylvia Serbin says the army was 'the last line of defence between the enemy and the King' during times of war, when they were 'prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect him'.

Stories about the Dahomey Amazons have become less reliable over time, though there are some stories recorded by people who had encounters with the army.

The Dahomey Amazons helped protect the kingdom and its leader. Credit: Chris Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo
The Dahomey Amazons helped protect the kingdom and its leader. Credit: Chris Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo

BBC Travel cites Italian priest Francesco Borghero, who in 1861 described an army exercise where thousands of barefoot women climbed 120 metres up thorny acacia bushes, without so much as a whimper.

In 1889, French colonial administrator Jean Bayol claimed to have witnessed a young member of the group approach a captor and swing her sword 'three times with both hands' before 'calmly' cutting 'the last flesh that attached the head to the trunk'

"She then squeezed the blood off her weapon and swallowed it," Bayol claimed.

The fighters are said to have been equipped with round-headed clubs to use in battle, as well as muskets and machetes.

Historians today refer to the group as 'mino', which can can be translated as ‘our mothers’ in the local Fon language. However, a local professor of politics told BBC Travel the name is not accurate, as it means 'witch'.

Estimates suggest the Dahomey Amazons lost between 6,000 and 15,000 members in the four major wars they were involved in, and the group ultimately disbanded in 1904 when the kingdom became a French colony.

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Topics: Film & TV, World News, Black Panther, Marvel, Film and TV, Entertainment

Emily Brown
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