Real Kingdom from “The Woman King” Has Compelling Mythology

kingdom of dahomey was central in the myth about a goddess challenged

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A new Viola Davis film isn’t just based on true events. It tells the story of an all-female warrior group that protected the Dahomey Kingdom of West Africa. The people of the new film The Woman King have their own stories to tell, too.

Macro view of woman's eye as the earth
Photo by Swarpya / Shutterstock

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis stars in the new film The Woman King, released September 16. The film depicts battle-hardened warriors, of an all-female unit called the Agojie, who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa from the 17th to the 19th century—located today in present-day Benin.

As with any film based on a true story, some facts and occurrences have been embellished for better storytelling purposes. However, the Agojie was a real group of Amazonian fighters, which also served as the basis for the Dora Milaje in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther.

In addition to an army of tough female fighters, the people of Dahomey also have a fascinating mythological tale about Mawu, a goddess who created Earth. In his video series Myth in Human History, Dr. Grant L. Voth, Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College, retells the story of Mawu and the trial she faced.

A Goddess Challenged

The Dahomey myth, like that of Greece’s Eurynome and Japan’s Amaterasu, involves a goddess whose power is challenged by a male. In the beginning of the Dahomey story, Mawu, the Great Mother, has created the world and retired to Heaven.

“The people she’s created begin to fight among themselves; they forget that each one of them has part of her in them, that each one is sacred, is divine in some kind of way,” Dr. Voth said. “They’re not treating each other as though they’re specks or flecks of the goddess. She eventually sends down her children and her grandchildren, her daughters and granddaughters, to remind people that they are partly divine and they should not treat one another this way.”

When these descendants of Mawu arrive on Earth, they meet a braggart named Awe. As Dr. Voth explains it, Awe has taken advantage of the freedoms Mawu has given humanity with the purposes of aggrandizing himself. He starts to believe that he himself is as powerful as the goddess.

“In fact, at some point he does declare that and decides that he will climb to Heaven and challenge her to a contest to see who’s really the stronger,” Dr. Voth said. “The contest involves the making of human beings, and, of course, Awe fails; he gets partway along the job, but he can’t finish it off the way she can.”

A World Forever Changed

By way of contrition, Awe swears to Mawu that he’s repentant and will return to Earth and sing her praises. He vows to assure the humans that Mawu is the goddess they believe her to be and that she’s in charge.

However, knowing that he’s a charlatan and a liar, Mawu doesn’t believe him. Before he leaves, she feeds him a type of cereal poisoned with the seed of death.

“According to the story, that’s how death comes into the world,” Dr. Voth said. “We can see in the story that the goddess survives the challenge, but the challenge is a real one, nevertheless.”

As for how the fate of the Agojie in The Woman King compares to that of Mawu, no spoilers please!

Myth in Human History is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily