• Lupita Nyong’o takes viewers into the world of African warrior women in a new documentary

    After Black Panther’s jaw-dropping success in the box office, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o is back with a new documentary based on the Agoji female warriors of the Dahomey kingdom. The Channel 4 documentary known as Warrior Women with Lupita Nyong’o, will see the star travel to Benin, West Africa to uncover the lives of the women who were once called Dahomey Amazons by the Europeans.

    Those who enjoyed Black Panther hardly knew that the female army of Dora Milaje was based on these women from the once famous warrior tribe. These women were highly skilled warriors who fought to defend the Kingdom of Dahomey between 1625 and 1894 in Benin. The documentary will uncover the truth behind these women who fought with African as well as colonial European powers during the 18th and 19th century.

    The period of origin of this all-female army is obscured, even though the legends say that it was formed during Queen Hangbe’s rule. Not much is known about her rule but it is said that she was soon dethroned by her power hungry brother Agaja.

    The queen’s ancestors are still alive and the current Queen Hangbe, a Benin woman named Rubinelle, told in an interview that she believes all traces of the original queen were erased by Agaja. The Agoji army continued to fight for Agaja and it is said that the warriors used umbrellas that were decorated with the bones of their enemies.

    The training regime for the warriors were vigorous and they excelled in hand-to-hand combat. They were not allowed to have children but were gifted a rich supply of alcohol and tobacco. An Italian missionary named Francesco Borghero also described these women climbing up through the thorny barricades made from acacia trees, ignoring the pain from the wounds generated by the long spikes.

    Nyong’o’s investigations will take the viewers into a deeper journey into the lives of these women. In an interview, Nyong’o said, ” I am tired of hearing about African history from someone else. Doing this was a recommitment to learn about my people and to recognise how important it is to preserve your understanding of yourself and your lineage in order to keep your life in context. That’s transformative.”

    While the facts resonate one of the earliest tales of woman empowerment, the documentary digs deeper to unravel some disturbing facts. The army was often send by the Dahomey kings into other parts of Africa where they captured young women and handed them over to be sold as slaves.

    After a catastrophic battle with the French occupying forces in 1892, the Agoji were reduced from 1200 to just 60. The last of the Agoji is said to have died in 1970 but one elderly woman who appears in the documentary, claims to be the daughter of one of the last survivors. She trained in the ancient warriors practices and led a secret life in the Dahomey palace.

    Apart from this fascinating documentary, Nyong’o will also be producing and starring in the limited series adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah. She has also published her very first novel recently, which is a children’s book called Sulwe.

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