The real-life warrior women who inspired Black Panther's Dora Milaje are totally fierce
You're living under a rock if you haven't heard the hype around Marvel's latest superhero flick, Black Panther. There are queues outside cinemas all over the world, mainly due to its all-star cast, but also because it's a refreshingly new type of superhero film.
The movie spotlights people of colour in ways many Hollywood productions fail to do, by referencing African culture and including an almost all-black cast. But what's more is that the film is a huge celebration of women too, thanks to the band of characters that are undeniably the most bad*ss element of the whole thing.
The Dora Milaje, for those who haven't seen the film, is the all-women guard who serves as T'Challa's personal security. T'Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, has the masked alter ego of Black Panther, and he depends almost entirely on his fierce female support network to save the fictitious land of Wakanda and to reclaim his throne.
Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is the leader of the warrior group and the king's most trusted advisor. She described the Dora Milaje as "unapologetically feminine and ferocious" in a recent interview, a claim that cannot be disputed once you see her slinging a spear.
And while we're all here clapping and whooping for the feminist heroes that have finally landed themselves a leading spot in the Marvel universe, an interesting detail has emerged about the history of the Dora Milaje. It turns out that they're probably based on a real-life group of warrior women from Africa spanning back to the 1800's.
Face2FaceAfrica made the connection between the Dora Milaje and a group of women known as the Dahomey warriors in a recent article, pointing out the very close similarities between the Black Panther characters and their real-life counterparts.
"In the 1800s, there was an all-female army in modern-day Benin that pledged a similar loyalty to the throne," they wrote. "They were known as the Dahomey Warriors and were praised for their bravery and strength by local leaders and European colonizers alike who encountered them. Their role in preserving the mighty Dahomey kingdom cannot be overstated."
Dahomey is now known as Benin, a country in West Africa that was colonized by the French. Before then, Dahomey had a king who interestingly enough chose to have an all-female entourage as his personal protection and to guard the royal palace.
It's said they grew from a troop of 800 to 6,000, and the king would prefer to send them to war as opposed to male soldiers because they were "better organized, swifter and much braver", PLUS other soldiers would hesitate to kill them because they were often young women.
Some historians called them the Dahomey Amazons due to the fact that they reminded them of the mysterious all-woman Amazonian army from Greek mythology. A Wonder Woman x Dora Milaje film? Yep, I'm feeling it too.
While Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, says the Dora Milaje was inspired by the "incredibly strong black women" in his own life including his wife and his mother, there's no doubt that some inspiration was drawn from the Dahomey Amazons back in the day.