Long ago in the Kingdom of Dahomey in western Africa, there were a group of elite warriors who were women, they were called the Mino.
The Kingdom of Dahomey is presently called Republique du Benin (Benin Republic) bordered by Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria.
There are various narratives of how they came to be. According to one account, they were established by King Wegbaja who trained them to be elephant hunters.
Another states that they were actually a group of female hunters known as gbeto. 20 gbetos reportedly killed three elephants from a herd of 40, causing King Gezo to praise their efforts. The gbetos, however, remarked that they were better suited for manhunting, hence King Gezo drafted them into the Dahomean army.
Regardless of how they came to be, all accounts agree that they were women warriors and particularly worked for the King of Dahomey.
E. Chaudoin in his account, ‘Three months in captivity in Dahomey’ describes the Mino as, “4,000 warriors, the 4,000 black virgins of Dahomey, the monarch’s bodyguard, motionless in their war garments, with gun and knife in hand, ready to leap forward at the master’s signal.
“Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to look at. They are as well built as the male warriors and their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, lined up as though against a rope.”
Although the women are believed to have joined voluntarily, an account states that some of the women used it as a way to leave their difficult marriages, with another account saying that some men forcefully sent their wives to be a part of the Mino.
Nevertheless, legend states that the women were not allowed to get married or have children, they were considered married to the king in order to seal their allegiance to him.
According to the historical Museum of Abomey, the women described themselves thus:
‘We are men not women. Whatever town is to be attacked we must overcome it or we bury ourselves in its ruins’.
The Mino were however dissolved during the reign of King Agoli Agbo, the last monarch of the kingdom of Dahomey.