Viola Davis’ powerful new film The Woman KingThe film is off to an impressive start at the box-office. Some movie-goers might not be aware that the film was inspired from true events. Here’s what history knows of the real all-female army that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey for decades.
‘The Woman King’Tells the Story Of The Agojie Warriors
Due to its Agojie army, the West African kingdom Dahomey in 1840s frightened its enemies. The force was comprised of 6,000 female warriors at the height of Dahomey’s power. They were known as “Amazons”The all-female army from Greek myth is commonly used in Europe. The women’s ferocity left historians awe-struck, and their incredible story is finally being dramatized by Hollywood.
Like almost all films based on true events, The Woman KingThe story of the Agojie army is filtered through and only the most interesting parts are included. The fictional characters are, for instance, largely fictional. Viola Davis’ Nanisca and Thuso Mbedu’s Nawi were not real people, although warriors by these names served at different points in the kingdom’s history. John Boyega’s King Ghezo is the most historically accurate character.
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The Woman King‘s conflict lies in the kingdom’His reliance on the slavery trade. Davis’ character, Nanisca, repeatedly urges King Ghezo to cease selling to slavers, even defying him to free slaves with the aid of the Agojie.
Here is where historical accuracy gets a little shaky. The Agojie, contrary to the film’s story, Participated willingly in the slavery trade. While there was once an effort to shift the kingdom’s primary export to palm oil, it couldn’t compare to the economic prosperity that the slave trade ensured. Even the Agojie warriors had slaves of their own—as many as 50 slaves to one warriorSome sources claim so.
The Agojie Was Considered Royalty
It’s unknown what led Dahomey to conscript such a large female army. Some Agojie were volunteers, while others were taken from slavery. They served as the king’s third-class wives—meaning they were wed to him but did not share his bed. The tradition dictated that the Agojie were celibate. When not at war, they served as the king’s guard and elephant hunters.
In Dahomey, men were not permitted to enter the king’s palace after nightfall. The Agojie made sure the king was safe throughout the night and didn’t break the protocol. Historians note that the Agojie left their palace to be followed by a slave girls who would ring a bell warning men to stay out of their way and avoid eye contact. The penalty for touching an Agojie soldier was death.
European tourists were shocked by the training that Agojie warriors had to endure. New recruits were required to climb thorn hedges in order to increase their pain tolerance. The forest was left to teach survival skills. The Agojie were forced to learn how to kill without discrimination, which was the most horrific aspect of their training. They were the kingdom’s executioners, forced to behead and maim prisoners so that they would lose all sensitivity to the act of killing.
The Agojie is known for his bravery, which has been attributed to him in historical texts. Almost every historian came to the same conclusion: The Agojie’s ferocity was on a level that Europeans had never witnessed before. Their story was immortalized because they defended Dahomey for many decades more than other smaller kingdoms.