Synopses & Reviews
Some prominent anthropologists have been joined by an eminent military historian in declaring that military combat - at all times and in all places - has been a male activity. They advance many reasons for this pattern, some more plausible than others. In fact, although warfare is typically conducted by men, in various places and at various times, women have fought bravely and well, and in the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the nineteenth century, they formed the elite corps of a successful army. Many European visitors to Dahomey commented favorably on their military bearing, finding them more impressive in discipline and maneuver than male Dahomean soldiers. When France invaded Dahomey in the early 1890s, their superior weapons won the war but all those French officers and men who wrote about their bloody battles against Dahomey declared not only that these women warriors were superior to male Dahomean soldiers, but that they were the equal of the French. Edgerton describes the history of these ”Amazon,” as they became known, their recruitment, training, and battle experience. Of particular interest to scholars interested in culture and gender today, these women believed that in order for them to carry out their martial roles, they had to transform themselves into men. How this was done, how the Amazons lived and fought, and what their experiences might mean for the understanding of women and warfare both in the past and present day are the subjects of this book.
When looking for historical examples of women who have fought as soldiers, one can referwith disappointmentto the words of John Keegan, one of the worlds most well-known military historians: Women look to men to protect them from danger, and bitterly reproach them when they fail as defenders
Women do not fight.”In this book, anthropologist and historian Robert Edgerton disagrees, taking as his centerpiece the women warriors of Dahomey, a West African kingdom that reached its heyday during the height of the African slave trade. In this land (now the Republic of Benin), women eventually became the elite force of the kingdoms standing army, the prime fighting force faced by the French when they defeated and colonized the region in the 1890s. This book is both a narrative history of these women and their role in Dahomian society as well as a more far-ranging refutation of the argument that warfare has always been a club for men only.”
About the Author
Author of over twenty books on sociology and anthropology, including The End of the Asante Empire and The Cloak of Competence, Robert B. Edgerton teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine.