Cummins, Joseph. History's Great Untold Stories. National Geographic, 2007.
Edgerton, Robert B. Warrior Women. Westview, 2000.
Forbes, Frederick Edwyn. Dahomey and the Dahomans. Longman, 1851.
Shaw, Albert. The Review of Reviews. Review of Reviews, 1892.
Created around 1645 by the Dahomey King Ada Honzoo, the Amazons weren't initially designed to serve as frontal assault shock troops sent in to crush the enemy's spirits (and skulls) in a frenzied wave of bloodlusted fury. Instead, they started out as a small team of women who specialized in bringing down elephants, and who would go out on organized, efficient pachyderm hunts while the men were out fighting in wars. Eventually, possibly due to a lack of manpower or possibly because of their ruthless efficiency, Ada Honzoo promoted them to his personal bodyguard unit, expanding the unit to 800 women warriors with spears, bows, and war clubs, which in turn grew in size to an elite military unit of over 4,000 warriors. As a shout-out to their roots the Amazons chose to honor their heritage by naming their first battalion the Elephant Destroyers. The second battalion, it should be noted, were known as the Reapers – women who ditched those pesky flintlock muskets and instead went to battle armed with a razor-sharp three-foot machete they wielded with two hands.
- Motto of the Dahomey Amazons
The Amazons went through intense physical training that far exceeded anything the male soldiers were willing to undertake. They wrestled, fought, and underwent grueling calesthenics and brutally-long runs on a daily basis. They climbed a thirty-foot wall lined with thorny brambles without showing pain. Recruits were sent into the woods with just a machete and told to survive for nine days. They trained for live-fire exercises by arming enemy prisoners of war with clubs, positioning them behind a stockade, and then assaulting it and killing everyone they could catch. Yeah, it's fucked up, but that's just how it was – the Amazons were in constant competition for glory with the male units, and they knew that if anyone was going to take them seriously either at home or on the battlefield, they needed to be twice as hard as anyone else out there. And they were. They kept their weapons and uniforms clean, marched in lock-step precision, and when these women sprinted barefoot and pissed into combat beneath their unit battle flag – a Voodoo fetish made from the bones and skin of dead enemy soldiers – everyone who saw them pretty much pissed themselves and ran for it.
The Dahomey Amazon motto was "Conquer or Die". These women swore an oath to die facing the enemy (any Amazons that fled a battle without being ordered to withdraw by the King himself were summarily executed on the spot), and, quite honestly, these chicks didn't have much tolerance for anyone else who didn't adhere to their admittedly-strict rules. And… they took it a little far sometimes. Like, after they'd conquer an enemy city, while the King and his men were pillaging and introducing themselves to their new subjects, the Dahomey Amazons would spend the next couple days running through the wilderness looking for enemy soldiers who had fled the battle. If they caught them, they'd drag the terrified warrior back by his hair. Then they'd spend the next couple days cutting the guy's ears off, gouge out his eyes, and cutting off his fingers – a process that would take 3 days – and on the fourth day they'd mercifully drag him before the king, decapitate him, and then lick his blood off the blade of their weapon. Then the guy's skull would be thrown onto the pile with the rest, the Dahomey would break out into one of their heroic battle chants, and then everyone would get really fucking hammered on rum and gin and dance until the sun came up.
It got to the point where every year there was a popular festival where the most senior Amazon commander would come to the king and make an argument for which rival civilization the Dahomey should obliterate next. The king would listen to his advisor, pick one target, and then the commander would go back to her unit, give her soldiers the name of a city, and they'd crush that entire civilization to dust with machetes and musketballs.
It started in 1890, as King Behanzin was continuing his family's tradition of beating the shit out of everyone around them. One day he chose to capture some jackass bullshit port city that was horning in on his slave trade action, and he patentedly refused to give a shit that the town he was sending his Amazons to fuck up was actually a French protectorate. The Amazons assaulted the walls, set the city on fire, and rushed into the governor's palace. They found the Governor standing there, clutching the tri-color French flag, screaming about how "this will protect me!"
The Dahomey Amazons decapitated him, made the guy's wife wrap the severed head up in the flag, then delivered the bloody head of the brutally-executed governor to their king still wrapped in a French flag.
The French turned the tide of the battle when they had a fucking gunboat start opening fire on the Dahomey, and quite honestly no amount of bravery is going to save you when you're carrying ancient out-of-date muskets and your enemies are launching artillery shells and shooting at you with machine guns. The attack was driven off.
I won't get too much into the gory details, but from this point on it gets kind of bad for the Dahomey Amazons. They fought bravely, nobody can deny that, battling the French in 24 pitched battles between 1890 and 1894, but ultimately their sword-swinging mayhem was no match for a modern industrial world power with top-of-the-line weaponry. Their charges were beaten off by intense gunfire, and in hand-to-hand combat the twenty-inch French rifle bayonets had roughly twice the reach of the Dahomey knives and machetes. The French conquered Dahomey in January 1894, driving King Behanzin into exile.
Of the 4,000 Dahomey Amazons under King Behanzin's command, nearly all of them were killed hurling themselves fearlessly into battle. Only 50 women survived, and most of them, awesomely enough, went to the United States and joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.