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-dayRepublic of Benin) who formed the king’s special bodyguard unit, and his secret weapon! Remember that inBehanzin’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
Je viens de me rendre compte que le site djime.com qui était entièrement dedié au roi Béhanzin, n’est plus actif. J’ai donc decidé de poster ici, la version francaise, l’originale du discours d’adieu du roi Behanzin. J’avais deja traduit dans son intégralité ce discours du roi Behanzin en anglais. The English versionhere.
« Compagnons d’infortune, derniers amis fidèles, vous savez dans quelles circonstances, lorsque les Français voulurent accaparer la terre de nos aïeux, nous avons décidé de lutter.
Nous avions alors la certitude de conduire notre armée à la victoire. Quand mes guerriers se levèrent par millier pour défendre leDanhomèet son roi, j’ai reconnu avec fierté la même bravoure que manifestaient ceux d’Agadja, deTegbessou, deGhézoet deGlélé. Dans toutes les batailles j’étais à leurs côtés.
Malgré la justesse de notre cause, et notre vaillance, nos troupes compactes furent décimées en un instant. Elles n’ont pu défaire les ennemis blancs dont nous louons aussi le courage et la discipline. Et déjà ma voix éplorée n’éveille plus d’écho.
Où sont maintenantles ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère? Où, leurschefs indomptables : Goudémè, Yéwê, Kétungan? Où, leursrobustes capitaines : Godogbé, Chachabloukou, Godjila? Qui chantera leurssplendides sacrifices? Qui dira leurgénérosité ?
Puisqu’ils ont scellé de leur sang lepacte de la suprême fidélité, comment accepterais-je sans euxune quelconque abdication?Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général ?
Non !A mon destin je ne tournerai plus le dos. Je ferai face et je marcherai. Car la plus belle victoire ne se remporte pas sur une armée ennemie ou des adversaires condamnés au silence du cachot.Est vraiment victorieux, l’homme resté seul et qui continue de lutter dans son cœur. Je ne veux pas qu’aux portes du pays des morts le douanier trouve des souillures à mes pieds. Quand je vous reverrai, je veux que mon ventre s’ouvre à la joie. Maintenant advienne de moi ce qui plaira à Dieu ! Qui suis-je pour que ma disparition soit une lacune sur la terre ?
Partez vous aussi, derniers compagnons vivants.Rejoignez Abomey où les nouveaux maîtres promettent une douce alliance, la vie sauve et, paraît-il, la liberté. Là-bas, on dit que déjà renaît la joie. Là-bas, il paraît que les Blancs vous seront aussi favorables que la pluie qui drape les flamboyants de velours rouge ou le soleil qui dore la barbe soyeuse des épis. Compagnons disparus, héros inconnus d’une tragique épopée, voici l’offrande du souvenir : un peu d’huile, un peu de farine et du sang de taureau. Voici le pacte renouvelé avant le grand départ. Adieu, soldats, adieu !…
Guédébé…reste debout, comme moi, comme un homme libre. Puisque le sang des soldats tués garantit la résurrection duDanhomè, il ne faut plus que coule le sang. Les ancêtres n’ont plus que faire de nos sacrifices.Ils goûteront mieux le pur hommage de ces cœurs fidèles unis pour la grandeur de la patrie. C’est pour quoi j’accepte de m’engager dans la longue nuit de la patience où germent des clartés d’aurore. Guédébé, comme le messager de la paix, va àGhohooù campe le général Dodds.Va dire au conquérant qu’il n’a pas harponner le requin. Va lui dire que demain, dès la venue du jour, de mon plein gré, je me rends au village de Yégo. Va lui dire que j’accepte, pour la survie de mon peuple, de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français. »
extrait de – Kondo le requin – Jean PLYA – Ed. CLE
Béhanzin (Gbêhanzin) Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th century. He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization. Who was really Béhanzin?
Born in 1844 in Abomey, Béhanzin was the eleventh king of Dahomey from 1889 to 1894. His name, Kondo, was changed to Béhanzin after he succeeded to his father Glèlè. His personal symbols were the shark, the egg, and two coconut palm trees, while those of his father were the lion and the ritual knife of Gu. His name actually meant ‘the egg of the world or the son of the shark‘. His great love for the freedom of his country, culture, and people led him to courageously and fiercely defend the land of his ancestors. He led the resistance and fight for the Dahomey’s freedom.
Dahomey was one of most powerful kingdoms of West Africa, deriving its power from trade and its superior army. Dahomey’s army was one of the strongest and best-organized armies in West Africa and was comprised of both men and women, including the Amazons, a superior and dreaded fighting force of female warriors. At the time, Béhanzin masterfully led an army of 15000 men and 5000 amazon women. One of the Amazon leaders was Seh-Dong Hong-Beh (which means “God speaks true“) who led an army of 6000 amazons against the Egba fortress in Abeokuta in 1851.
In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people, as was (and still is) the practice with Europeans colons. By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo. In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Béhanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.
In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou; Béhanzin, now king after Glèlè’s sudden death, prepared for war. Béhanzin’s army, with rifles supplied by the Germans, were getting too strong for neighboring French colonies. Béhanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts—militarilyat Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo. The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities. A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Béhanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. The peace lasted for two years. However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did. Béhanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.
He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in 1868 null and void, from this war began. In 1894, Béhanzin was defeated by Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese mulatto, who was sent to fight against him with powerful French armed forces. Béhanzin, not wanting his people to be massacred, surrendered his person to Dodds, without signing any instrument of national surrender or treaty. Béhanzin thought that he will get a chance to talk to the French president and find a way or sign a conciliation agreement for his country, unfortunately, the French tricked him and instead of going to France, Behanzin was exiled to Martinique. With Béhanzin and his immediate family adamantly refusing to sign a treaty making Dahomey a French protectorate, the French installed their choice, Agoli-Agbo, as king; Agoli Agbo, the puppet, did not last more than 6 years (when he asked for more freedom to rule, he was deported to Gabon). Dahomey was then placed under France’s protection and it eventually became a French colony. Béhanzin died in 1906 in Algeria. In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey. Ouanilo’s remains will be restituted to Benin almost 80 years after his death.
Béhanzin once said: «Vous pouvez arracher l’homme de son pays, mais vous ne pouvez arracher son pays du cœur de l’homme, ni arracher un grand homme de l’histoire.» [You can remove a man from his country, but you can never remove his country from a man’s heart, or erase a great man from history]. Béhanzin truly loved his people, and when he saw that his army was being massacred by the French, he cried for his beautiful and strong amazons, and pronounced the most beautiful ode to them [Où sont maintenant les ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère? … Qui chantera leurs splendides sacrifices? Qui dira leur générosité? … comment accepterais-je sans eux une quelconque abdication? Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général?…pour la survie de mon peuple, [j’accepte] de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français. —
Where are now the ardent amazons who were inflamed by a mighty anger? … Who will praise their splendid sacrifices? … Who will tell about their generosity? … How could I accept any sort of abdication without them? How could I dare presenting myself to you, brave warriors, if I signed the general’s paper?… for the survival of my people, [I agree] to meet in his country, according to his promise, the president of the French]. Please watch this great documentary about the life of Béhanzin, the last king of the Dahomey (part 1 – 4), and one of the last resistant to French colonization. Why was he defeated? He said himself: «malgré la justesse de notre cause, notre vaillance et notre détermination, ils n’ont pu l’emporter et s’accaparer de la terre de nos aïeux que par la force de leur science» [despite the legitimacy of our cause, our courage, and determination, they could only win and take the land of our forefathers because of the force of their science]. Check out the website djime.com entirely dedicated to Béhanzin and his heritage. To learn more about Dahomey’s Amazons, check out the Smithsonian blog. This facebook page provides details about the organization of the amazons in the army. Don’t forget to offer your support to the Agongointo Musée du passé vivant dedicated to the kingdom of Dahomey.