Digging the Dora Milaje? Then Love the Dahomey Women Warriors

Marvel Entertainment via YouTube

It is all Black Panther everything all Presidents Day weekend here at The Root.(That’s no coincidence, by the way. Wakanda forever!) At this point, all of our staff has seen the film—some of us, multiple times. That said, we realize that not all of you have, so gird your loins, because we’re about to talk Dora Milaje. We’ll try to avoid any spoilers.

BAMorg via YouTube

The Dora Milaje—Wakandan for “adored ones”—first appeared in 1998, created by Christopher Priest during his tenure as writer of Black Panther. Originally based on supermodels Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, the Dora were initially conceived not only as female warriors but also as potential wives for the king, whom they’ve pledged to protect, along with the royal family. They were the best and strongest women from the 18 villages within Wakanda and trained at the royal palace.

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney

But while Priest may in part cite supermodels as his inspiration, there is a historical prototype for the Dora Milaje in the Dahomey “Amazons”—so nicknamed by European colonizers and now known by the French-speaking Beninese as the “N’Nonmiton” (which translates to “our mothers” in Fon). 

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Created in the late 17th century by King Wegbaja of the West African nation of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) as a group of female hunters known as gbeto, and later expanded by his son King Agaja, the N’Nonmiton were an all-female guard and fighting force. Like the Dora Milaje, the N’Nonmiton were also considered wives of the king, pledging celibacy as well as loyalty and protection to him. And they existed in this role until the colonization of Dahomey in the late 19th century.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

You can learn all about the incredible female warriors of Dahomey in a 2015 episode of the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class, and in a very comprehensive comic on their history created by UNESCO for its Series on Women in African History (pdf). But when you watch Black Panther, just know that art is truly imitating life.

Thought Crimez via YouTube

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, an avid eyeshadow enthusiast and always her own muse. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.

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DISCUSSION

Years ago, I received an DNA kit from Ancestry.com for a birthday gift. (Yes, I know, some folks don’t like them, but it was free and I have always been curious about my heritage, where my ancestors came from, so...)

When the test results came in, I was surprised to see that the results said that I was predominantly Benin-Togolese (almost 40% . Never crossed my mind but one of the few things I knew about the region was about the Dahomey (mainly because the name “I’m Da Homey, man”). Since then, I’ve learned so much more about the region and the peoples (and taken another DNA test from another company, that pretty much said the same thing that the first did). The region is amazing and I am proud to know that, I may be a bum but the blood of warriors flows thru my veins.

However, the saddest thing I found out was that Dahomey were major players in the transatlantic slave trade, so much so that the region became known as the “Slave Coast”.

So there’s that.