08 May 2017

The Women Warriors of Dahomey Are Not Lesbians

Women Warriors of Dahomey
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBTs) groups are once again sowing seeds of confusions and misinformation. This time they are trying to convince themselves that the warrior women of Dahomey as lesbians that marry other female warriors.

Are these claims true or have any semblance of truth to it? Let us examine the available references to the only thoroughly documented amazons in world history.

The uniqueness of warrior women of Dahomey was recognized as early as 1793 when Archibald Dalzel, in "The History of Dahomey, an Inland Kingdom of Africa," wrote:

"Whatever might have been the prowess of the Amazons among the ancients, this is a novelty in modern history, which ought not to be slightly passed over."
European vistors generally began referring to the women soldiers of Dahomey as amazons in the 1840s. By 1850, the Dahomeans themselves were aware of the institution’s uniqueness: Frederick Forbes heard a male bard sing praise of King Gezo as "the only monarch in the world who held an amazon army."

Unlike their male counterpart, the amazons of Dahomey never rode horses or any animal. Instead of bows, spears and axes, their main weapons are muskets, clubs and machetes. They rarely used shields. Like their ancient forerunners, they lived by themselves, but in royal palaces, not off somewhere autonomously.

They fought in an army with males as majority. Though they had their own officers, they were ultimately ruled by men. They were, in fact, completely devoted to their king, and would die for him – which they often did.

British traveller Richard F. Burton called Dahomey “this small black Sparta” for its militarism and subordination of the individual states. Its women resembled the women of Sparta in one respect: their bodies were hardened from childhood by physical exercise.

They were allegedly vowed to celibacy, and thus did not produce their own replacements, but this is credited to a single village source and seems dubious. Dahomey, in fact, had a custom that heightened the joy of sex: artificial elongation of the vagina lips.

Burton wrote that labial elongation was so common that "a woman in the natural state is derided by others". He also suggested that the clitoris too was artificially enlarged.

Celibacy was so rare among the early-twentieth century Dahomey that it was observed only by those incapable of marriage, namely idiots, insane people, epileptics and lepers. Celibacy might have been exaggerated because in a society where upper-class men have multiple wives, many lower class men are bound to have none simply because there are not enough females to go around. This problem was partially answered by prostitution, which was institutionalized.

In one of the more bizarre manifestations of Dahomean dualism, "prostitutes" within the royal palace matched the real ones on the outside. This may have encouraged Burton to suggest that most amazons were lesbians – preferring, as he put it, "the peculiarities of the Tenth Muse [Sappho]" – but he offered no firm evidence nor did anyone else, including the modern day LGBT activists.

If many amazons were lesbians, there would have been little need to resort to prostitutes. In fact, homosexuality of either sex is almost unrecorded in the European literature on pre-colonial West Africa. Evidence strongly points out that the claim of activists in the LGBT ranks about Dahomey warrior women is purely a product of their own imagination or false notion of "self-importance" that they failed to see the truth.

Amazon libidos were never, as LGBT’s might have wanted, programmed towards the same sex. Archibald Dalzel, a British adventurer who became the Governor of present-day Ghana in 1792, heard of some royal "ladies of the seraglio" during Kpengla’s reign (1774-89) who, bearing "evident marks of gallantry", named more than 150 men as their lovers even though the penalty for breaking the vow of celibacy could be death.

Burton and Skertchly, a British entomologist, relate cases where female soldiers were impregnated and were judged, along with their male lovers, by King Glele himself in 1863. Eight men were executed, some were pardoned, and the rest were imprisoned or banished to remote villages. The amazons were “similarly treated”, says Burton, who further notes that female officers inside the palace executed female criminals with no men watching.

Eight years later, seventy-two of Glele’s amazons and eighty men were tried for adultery. According to Skertchly, the king waived his right to the lives of all of the defendants, but said that justice must be satisfied.

Frederick E. Forbes, a British naval officer who was in Dahomey between 1849 and 1850, asserts that particularly brave amazons were "given in marriage by the king to his favored subjects". Pierre-Eugene Chautard, a French missionary, reported in 1890 that the king exceptionally married off amazons "to his most deserving soldiers."