Sony Pictures’ “The Woman King” is based on a true story of the Dahomey warriors, an all-female military unit in the West Africa region that’s known as Benin today. They fought for the Kingdom of Dahomey, which was one of the most powerful states in Africa for 300 years.
The rise of the women warriors coincided with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, says Rachel Jones, a contributing writer with National Geographic. That’s because men were heading on raids and enslaving other people from different tribes and countries.
“The whole infrastructure was based on the fact that the society prospered based on selling palm oil, selling the mineral goods, selling the other crafts or whatever it was that they were making at the time. But the slave trade exponentially boosted the amounts of income and taxes and duties that they could could accumulate,” Jones explains.
The women warriors fought alongside other women, as well as men.
“Reports from European visitors, or travelers who saw them, portray them as fearsome – absolutely just as skillful as the men. Many people couldn't tell that they were women until they were right on top of them,” Jones says.
She adds, “This concept of femininity being weaker of the lesser sex is truly a European construct. Because these women-- once trained, once employed – you simply could not have told the woman warrior from the male warrior. They were just as strong and just as fierce.”