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The Historical Story That Birth The Famous Film “The Woman King”

By Chinelo Eze
14 September 2022   |   1:43 pm
The recently released film "The Woman King" is a film built on the historical tale of the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. Its remains can be found in present-day Benin. The film chronicles the historical tale of a troop of all-female warriors known as the Agojie/Agoji; who possess abilities and ferocity unmatched by…

The recently released film “The Woman King” is a film built on the historical tale of the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. Its remains can be found in present-day Benin.

The film chronicles the historical tale of a troop of all-female warriors known as the Agojie/Agoji; who possess abilities and ferocity unmatched by anything ever seen in the history of the world as they defend their kingdom Dahomey in sweat and blood.

The famous Gen. Nanisca who leads the army prepares the upcoming recruits to battle against a foreign foe who is out to destroy their way of life in response to a new threat.

King Ghezo, portrayed by John Boyega, reigned in Dahomey from 1818 to 1858 and participated in the Atlantic slave trade until the end of his dominion. Santo Ferreira, a fictional white slave merchant who speaks Portuguese, is portrayed as Ghezo’s adversary, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin plays him.

Both the Marvel comic Black Panther and the 1987 film Cobra Verde featured Agoji women from Dahomey. The fearless Dora Milage of Wakanda represented a contemporary image of the warrior women now known in the new film as “The Woman King”.

However, the tale states the front-line army warriors in the kingdom of Dahomey, an empire in West Africa that flourished from 1625 to 1894. They are also known as the Dahomey Amazons, a term they acquired from the French putting up a defence in the kingdom of Dahomey. The Agoji were renowned for their ruthlessness and bravery, whether they were battling other nearby tribes or external soldiers.

As a result of its conquest of the coastal kingdoms of Allada and Whyda, which were significant slave-trading hubs and were around the Atlantique district of Benin, the Dahomey Kingdom rose to prominence in the 1700s. After seizing control of these cities, Dahomey rose to prominence as a major hub for the Atlantic Slave Traffic until the British mounted a naval blockade to halt the trade in 1852.

Although some historians place the formation of the Agoji/Dahomey Amazons army in the 18thcentury, the exact time period is uncertain. It is also believed that King Houegbadja, the third king of Dahomey, who ruled from 1645 to 1685, was the one who first organised the troops.

The Agoji warriors were founded as bodyguards equipped with muskets and deployed as militias to invade neighbouring kingdoms during the reign of King Houegbadja’s son, who ruled from 1708 until 1732.
More soldiers were enlisted from foreign captives later, in the 1800s.
As they were called, the ‘gbeto’ hunters are thought to have made up the Agoji warriors, who eventually included slaves taken during conquests of nearby settlements.

While some joined the military on their own, 8-year-old girls were believed to have been recruited and given weapons.

The ladies were forbidden from participating in any aspect of family life and were known to take a vow of chastity paying allegiance to the king in marriage.

They had privileges like living in the palace of the monarch and being allowed to smoke and drink, which the men were not. They were told to practise hand-to-hand combat frequently and vigorously among themselves while also learning survival techniques because discipline was continually praised. As a part of their initiation procedure, their indifference to pain and tolerance for death was put to the test.

For many women, despite the rigorous training they received as soldiers, this was a chance to advance into leadership positions and other prominent positions. The majority of them may even become successful, independent single women.

There were between 1,000 and 6,000 warrior women who were huntresses, riflewomen, reapers, archers, and gunners by the middle of the 19th century. The Kingdom and its neighbours were constantly at war. The Agoji women took part in several slave raids because the slave trade needed prisoners.

West Africa was invaded more frequently by Europeans in the latter half of the 19th century. The first conflict, also known as the Franco-Dahomean war, was started by King Behanzin, who was regarded as the 11th and final king of Dahomey. Many Agoji women took part in the conflict and engaged in hand-to-hand combat to defend themselves. The Agoji warriors were vanquished and several of them were shot dead despite the European plaudits.

After the army dispersed, the kingdom came under French protection. According to oral legend, certain Agoji who were still alive offered their protection to King Behanzin’s forefather by posing as his wives. A few of the women got married and started families. It is said that a woman by the name of Nawi was the final Agoji woman to survive with stories claiming that she fought the French in 1978. Over 100 years old, Nawi passed away in 1979.

Based on most accounts, the Agoji warriors are still the only known female front-line combatants known in contemporary warfare.