The strength of the Beninese woman in modern history was reasserted this week in the West African nation when the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, unveiled a giant Amazon statue.
It’s a 30-meter statue made of bronze and situated in Benin’s capital of Cotonou. It’s christened ‘Esplanade des Amazones’. For many Beninese, it represents Queen Tassi Hangbe who ruled alongside her brother in 1700, while for followers of oral history, it’s the Beninese Amazon, a legion of she-warriors who defended the Dahomey kingdom (present-day Benin) and her people fearlessly.
At the official unveiling ceremony, President Talon underscored the importance of immortalizing the rich history of the people of Benin.
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The history of the Amazons of Benin has always been shrouded in controversy. The statue may have reaffirmed the existence of the she-warriors, but, what’s the story behind the statue?
Oral tradition traces the emergence of the Amazons of Benin to the crude impact of the slave trade. This compelled a culture of grooming girls in the art of war. By the 1800s, the number of she-warriors in Dahomey was estimated in the thousands.
They were dreaded for their bravery and fearlessness in battles the Dahomey kingdom was embroiled in. Folklore has it that the popularity of the ancient kingdom is partly to the influence the Amazons commanded in battles. They were known as N’Nonmiton which literally means “our mothers” among the Fon tribe.
Another version of history traces the roots of the Amazons to Queen Hangbe who ruled after the death of her twin brother, King Akaba. She is credited for building an army of spinster warriors who were recruited and trained at an early age.
Their initial role was royal bodyguards until they were conscripted into an army by King Gezo between 1818 and 1858. They embodied women empowerment in all their endeavors as they sought to outshine men in every aspect of their life. They were considered well organized, better trained and braver than their male counterparts.
The Amazons, to many, represent the feminine strength and the voice of women in an underrepresented society.
This is captured in the Benin President’s remarks when unveiling the statue when he stated that it’s time for the people to be aware of their history and be proud of their roots.
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“It is time to be aware and proud of what we are Benin: the successful fusion of these ancient great kingdoms and peoples that are the baatonou, berba, wassangari, yoruba, adja, fon, goun, waama, batammariba, yom , peulh, and many others; each as deserving as the other,” he added.