Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: Amazons of Black Sparta by Stanley B. Alpern

I apparently wanted Stanley B. Alpern's Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey so much that I bought it twice on the same Amazon order.  Oops.  I'm glad to support such tireless efforts as Alpern's, though, due to his continual search more more research on the "Amazons" of Dahomey.  While his extensive research and thorough delivery of others' findings, the book is not as well-written as one might find with the likes of Antonia Frasier.



Alpern provides opposing accounts of the Amazons of Dahomey; however, it becomes confusing to have conflicting viewpoints presented at once.  There are at times, especially in the first half, that he does not explain the more likely scenarios.  Numbers of warriors are especially divergent, often by the thousands.  The sentences are written like someone who is taking notes to write a thesis.  While the content is highly interesting, the semantics are not engaging in ways that other successful nonfiction authors present their work.  The book is strangely constructed, with the first two-thirds about certain aspects of their culture, which leads to overlapping.  Within those chapters are how the culture varied in different time periods.  It would have helped greatly in understanding and visualizing to order chapters by decade: how the kingdom functioned, who was king, how many amazons served, what the kingdom looked like, battles fought, and so forth. 

Once taken over by the French, the Amazons of Dahomey toured the world, performing their traditional dances; however, these women were likely not directly Amazons and recreated as best as possible the fearsome dance of the women who came before them.  They were likely women or girls from their villages and had seen them perform the ceremonial dances.

But onto the content: Alpern shows a true love for finding out more about the history that often goes unnoticed and even erased.  We have various accounts of these Amazons to know at least that they were real and lasted for hundreds of years in some manner of existence.  They are, as we know, the only Amazons in history that have been proven to exist.  I cannot fathom a widespread hoax, concerning the existence of Amazons when so many witnessed them anyway and even in such recent times.  Alpern takes form all the sources he knows and is clearly the foremost expert on the subject, though others who specialize in it focus on one aspect, such as local oral history of the Amazons.  Alpern, however, focuses heavily on the written records of French visitors.

An Amazon of Dahomey
What most intrigued me about the Amazons were not the weapons but their style of attacks and why they came to be.  Forming out of necessity, the Amazons were solely the king's.  They lived in the palace, fought in his army, hunted elephants to extinction, and serves as his concubines.  They had the highest authority, aside from the king.  During a time when slaves were taken from the African west coast for the worldwide slave trade, especially now in America, young, healthy men were being deported, leaving women behind to fend off attacks from neighboring kingdoms.  It seems, for the most part, that the women in the king's army were far more talented at martial arts than the men, having smooth movements and exceptionally fierce bravery (though this is likely due to alcohol's influence).  The women were expert archers, sharpshooters, blade wielders, and neck biters.  Observed battle practices had shown their silent approaches, impressive stamina, uniform strategy, and incredible stature.

I would suggest the book for any who are interested in the woman warrior, African kingdoms, military history, weaponry, and social hierarchy.  It would be a wonderful thing to have a documentary based on the book, especially by Alpern, teamed up with the oral history specialists.  It could also make a wonderful TV series.  It's far too much of a timespan for a movie, but it could work as a season per king.  So many heads would be severed from their bodies.

No comments:

Post a Comment