MUSINGS | Black Superheroes, Dahomey Women Warriors & Women's Day


All day, I sat contemplating what to write for International Women's Day, and all I could think of was WAKANDA FOREVER...

Last week I went to see Black Panther with my husband. Can we just say "STUNNING!" After the film, discussions ensued on various symbolism, parallels and lessons mirrored in the fabric of our society today. However, our discourse focused more on the concept of "power," access to it, and what does it mean to have power. What emerged were the types of power that the film portrayed, whether it be strength, power in knowledge and power in control, and which types of power were the most interesting in the film. 

I promise not to give much away. 

For all three types of power, the film ensured that the women led. We had power of strength through the female army and the ever talented actress, Danai Gurira, who played the commander of Wakanda's army; power of knowledge through Guyana's own Letitia Wright's character, Shuri, who revolutionises Wakanda's technological advancement beyond the rest of the world; and power in control vis-a-vis Lupita Nyong'o, who is able to be influential in decision-making processes as it pertains to the moral footprint of Wakanda as it becomes a more influential player on the world forum. As sci-fi/fantasy/adventure as the film is, it begs one to think about the truisms behind the women of the film and how one should reflect on women from our past and present who took on the role of "she who shall have power."

As a teen, I interned at the Smithsonian's Museum of African Art where I came face-to-face with photographs of African female warriors. The most known is perhaps Gaddafi's female bodyguards, al-rāhibāt al-thawriyyāt -- The Revolutionary Nuns. However, the continent of Africa, has seen many female armies, and perhaps none most revered as the Amazons of Dahomey. 

Perhaps most parallel to the film are the N’Nonmiton (our mothers) Warriors of Dahomey, now modern-day Benin, dating back to 18th century Dahomey. The Dahomean army was all female, and have been noted to be a fearsome force and the ONLY documented frontline female troop in modern-day history.  I mean, they were known for their ability to swiftly decapitate their enemies; they were just bad-ass. It begs no question why a film such as Black Panther should draw inspiration from a these 18th century female warriors. 

To be warriors they had to prove their strength, wit and cunning twice as much as the men. Sounds familiar women? However, in reminding myself of these warriors--the Amazons of Dahomey, the Revolutionary Nuns, the Khartoum Female Popular Defence Militia--one must reflect on what it must have meant for these women to join such powerful units. These women were greatly feared and respected, not just by their peers, but also by foreign adversaries. They were seen as otherworldly, and in their status given access to power in ways others (men and women) in their societies were not permitted. 
Female Popular Defence militia given military training at camp. Khartoum, Sudan, 1993. A. Abbas
As I think of the fictional Wakanda army and Dahomey's N’Nonmiton, maybe my head is held that much higher, my chest pushed that much further out, my stance that much stronger. Whatever, the change, there is power in knowing that these women have influenced me in some way. Made me even prouder to be a woman and glad to share a bit of their story on International Women's Day.


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