Below is a description of the army of King Béhanzin by a French prisoner made on 13 March 1890. This Frenchman is stunned by the number of warriors in Behanzin’s army, by their discipline, strength and muscular stature. More importantly, he also describes the Dahomey Amazons (locally known as Mino), the Fon all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Republic of Benin) who formed the king’s special bodyguard unit, and his secret weapon! Remember that in Behanzin’s Farewell Speech in Dahomey, the king had sung praises of his beloved Mino. Here the narriator is amazed by their sight and confirms, “Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, …” Translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com.
We are right in the Dahomean camp!
At least 15000 men are in front of us, arranged in order of battle in front of their tents made up of palm leaves, immobile, in such a deep silence that at 100 meters from our prison, in the same courtyard, separated by a simple wall, we could not have imagined their existence.
It is really a painting of a sublime horror and which painfully squeezes our heart. Fifteen thousand men, armed with guns and machetes! There is nothing to say, they are beautiful robust and muscular warriors under their white loincloths, which brings out the ebony of their stature even more. Not a cry, not a single movement, not a noise.
Quiet ourselves and deeply moved, we cross the hay that they form, lined up like the long rows of ears on a wheat field. Black and human harvest of which the one who is there can freely pick or mow heads.
The main officers of the army came to surround us. Our group starts to walk, it takes us more than a quarter of an hour to cross the first rows, given that their battle ranks are so deep. Then we cross an empty space, on the other side of which the Black army continues. Here it is no longer just warriors. The second line, in fact, consists of amazons in three tight ranks, surrounding in a huge circle the very throne of the king whom we cannot yet see.
They are there the four thousand female warriors, the four thousand Black virgins of Dahomey, bodyguards of the monarch, immobile under their war shirts, gun and knife in the fist, ready to pounce on a signal from the master.
Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, lined up like them in ranks.
The chiefs are in rows, at the head of the columns, recognizable by the richness of their shirts, by their proud and resolute air. Such are the amazons at rest with their arms. There is a long way from this discipline, this order, to the savage and barbaric hordes that we imagine. His Majesty Behanzin can be calm, these viragos will not let him be taken away easily. The triple circle that they form is immense, without a void, gap, or hole.
E. Chaudoin, extract from the Illustration of 26 July 1890, Les Africains Tome X, Editions J.A., 1978, P. 250