Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Agooji

In the 19th century the Kingdom of Dahomey was a small but powerful kingdom. Located in the region of modern day Benin, the West African kingdom expanded from the 17th Century, against the much larger Asante and Yoruba Kingdoms. Dahomey was feared for its annual slave raids deep into its neighbor’s territories and the ruthlessness of their women warriors, a terrifying all-female fighting force known as the Agooji.

Up to 6,000 strong, the Agooji battled to protect one of the continent’s last independent kingdoms, fighting as elite regiments against colonial male armies in the Franco-Dahomean Wars. The Agooji fought as elite regiments in the two Franco Dahomean wars in 1890 and 1892. They defended the kingdoms’ independence, fighting and winning against colonial male armies but they also took part in human sacrifice and supported Dahomey’s gruesome slave trade to the Americas that de-populated large areas of West Africa.

“The Agooji regiments were recruited from slaves, some of them captured as early in age as 10-years old,” explained Dr. Terri Ochiagha, Teaching Fellow in Modern African History, King’s College London. “The story of the Agooji was an extraordinary story of subversion, of empowerment and of unbridled military and social power.”

“The legacy of the Dahomey warriors speaks to us in particularly striking ways,” said Harvard University Professor Suzanne Blier. “There is that memory of this enormously important period, in which basically much of the power remained in the hands of women.”

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