Three large royal statues of the Kingdom of Dahomey, from left to right, half-man half-lion of King Glele attributed to Sossa Dede, Benin, Abomey (1858-1889), half-man and half-bird of King Ghezo, attributed to Donvide or Sossa Dede, atelier Akati, Benin, Abomey, (19th century) and half-man and half-shark of King Behanzin, attributed to Sossa Dede or the Houeglo family, Benin, Abomey (1890-1892), are displayed at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, Nov. 23, 2018. Credit:
When French soldiers began an incursion against the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in 1890, King Béhanzin sent his fiercest soldiers to defend the front line.
The troops were an elite squadron of women warriors often remembered as “Amazons.”
The French eventually defeated the kingdom, looting expensive jewelry and clothes that belonged to the women warriors. These precious objects speak to the warriors’ importance to the Kingdom of Dahomey that once ruled parts of modern-day Benin. The French colonized Benin until 1959.
“It’s interesting to see that these Amazon had very beautiful necklaces, very expensive ones. That means that they aren’t women fighting like men, they are women fighting like women,” said Alain Godonou, national director of museums in Benin.
In December 2019, France announced a deadline to return 26 objects taken by French colonial military leader Alfred-Amédée Doddsin the 1890s back to Benin by 2021 amid a growing call for the restitution of African art taken during colonial periods.