January 15, 2019
  • 6:21 pm Yoruba Alphabet
  • 3:31 pm The Egba-Dahomey war
  • 3:54 pm Yoruba philosophy
  • 1:35 pm Growing in the shadow of a beautiful humanity
the Egba-dahomey war

 The War of Dahomey 


Dahomey war was famous for the bloody battles of Dahomey and Egba Kingdom. The dahomey war saw over 6,000 Dahomey troops invade the independent nation of Egbaland in present-day Nigeria.

The war of dahomey stunned the world. It was unthinkable that Women could serve as combat troops. women heavily outnumbered men in Dahomey, phenomenon attributed to the effects of the slave trade.

The war began as a territorial expansion by the people of Dahomey into the Egba’s land in a bid to stabilize their crumbling economy. Egba, was a huge town harbouring a population of 50,000 people.

The war of Dahomey happened as the third catastrophic triplet of wars that crippled the Yoruba Empire after the popular Owu-Ife war (1821-1828) and the Osogbo war (1840). After these two wars, Oyo nation was in chaos based on political instability. With this opportunity, the people of Dahomey – which were part of the Oyo Empire – used this period to declare themselves an independent state from the Oyo Empire.

gezo king of dahomey
gezo king of-dahomey (1818-58)


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Troubling times in Dahomey

However, not long after their self-proclaimed sovereign nation, they realized they could not sustain their economy as the only viable crop in their land was plantain, and to make things worse, the slave trade which used to be their primary source of income was starting to crumble.

In a nutshell, their only solution was to expand their territory, unfortunately they tried expanding through two localities named as, Ajase-Ipo and Egbado, both of which belonged to the Egba land.

Dahomey and Egbaland at war

The idea of their territorial expansion wasn’t a welcome by the people of Egba land. They disagreed with the concept and highlighted the inconveniences it would bring upon the people of Egba.

The people of Dahomey were recalcitrant as they insist on invading the land of Egba to stabilize their economy. This situation is the premise on which the war of Dahomey was based.

In 1851, the army of Dahomey, which was mostly women (known today as the Amazon Women), under the leadership of King Gezo invaded Egba – which is the then center of Abeokuta – and caused havoc on the unprepared people of Egba.

Nevertheless, the mighty and heavily armed warriors of Egba revoked the attack and killed many members of Dahomey’s army, while those that were captured became slaves. Two years after, the Egba people retaliated the attack and destroyed Referefe and Lefulefu – two villages at the outskirt of Dahomey.

                           The Amazon warriors of Dahomey


the war of dahomey
dahomey women warrior (public domain)

The Amazon women also popularly known among the people of Benin as N’Nonmiton (meaning our mothers) were muscular, ferocious, and highly skilled in warfare and battle strategy. They are known to slaughter without mercy, and many even fought well in battle than men.

However, they were of no match to the warriors of Egba, who were well-skilled, trained and intelligent in the battlefield. About 3000 Amazon Women were led by king Gelele who succeeded his father, Gezo, to battle the people of Egba again in 1864. Unfortunately, they were defeated for the second time.


the war of dahomey
Dahomey warriors possing for the camera
                                                       (Rainer Lotz)

Casualties of war, beneficiaries of peace

During Egba’s attack, king Gezo was almost captured while the sacred golden stool of Dahomey and the precious umbrella of Gezo were seized.

The second defeat suffered by the army of Dahomey forced the king of Dahomey to appeal for peace between the people of Dahomey and Egba.

Based on an agreement, this puts an end to the hostility which has been in existence between the two kingdoms way long before the popular war of Dahomey.



the dahomey war
Behanzin, the Former king of Dahomey i(1844-1906) is considered the eleventh King (now Benin)


At the end of the war between the two kingdoms, the people of Egba gained the rightful ownership of the lands of Egbado, Ajase-Ipo, and also the port of Badagry.

How did the Egbas triumph?

Generally, the victory of the Egba people was facilitated by two major factors. Well equipped, egba army.

The second factor which facilitated the victory of the Egba people was due to the support they received from some Yoruba towns, such as Ibadan who were said to have given the people of Egba more workforce to overcome the army of Dahomey.

However, the support from these two towns didn’t last long as the war of Kiriji-Ekitiparapo and Ibadan-Ijaye began on their side too in the later years.