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Women Warriors: A Dahomey story

By | History | One Comment

Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!

As we continue exploring other francophone countries and cultures, it’s hard not to pay respects to the all women warrior military group that once protected the Kingdom of Dahomey which resided in present day Benin – a country now a part of La Francophonie. Their name? The N’Nonmiton.

So let’s get into the who, what, when, why, where and add some fun facts sprinkled in there:

**disclaimer… not going in order**

WHATAn all female militant group designed to protect the King and Dahomey Kingdom from foreigners.

WHERE: The Dahomey Kingdom — For about 300 years, the Fon people of Africa, established the Dahomey Kingdom which is resided in current day Benin. It was abolished when the French annexed the territory into their colonial empire.

WHO: They were known as the N’Nonmiton by the Fon people (the people of the Kingdom of Dahomey) and as the Dahomey Amazons by the Europeans that encountered them. They were feared, respected and ruthless. And in many ways, if not in all ways, they were considered to be superior to their male counterparts. For instance, they were known to never retreat from battle while male warriors were supposedly punished for doing so more than once. This is why the N’Nonmiton were the chosen ferocious protectors of the Ahosu (the King in the Fon language) and repeatedly put their lives on the line for his safety. There were 5 classifications or regimens within the group, named after the weapon or purpose of the women.
1) Huntress (Gbeto in Fon): They were the gunners. In fact, many women were huntresses before joining the N’Nonmiton and their strong skills landed them in the exclusive group.
2) Riflewomen (Gulohento): They accounted for the largest portion of the warriors. They were known to be exceptionally lethal in close combat and carried spears and short swords.
3) Reapers (Nyekplohento):  These women were especially feared. Legend of their effective cruelty and sharp swords that could slice a man in half with one swipe struck fear in the hearts of their enemies.
4) Archers (Gohento): They were picked from the most impressive and steady-handed young women. As archery became less and less used, they transitioned into moving weapons and to caring for the wounded and dead soldiers.
5) Gunners (Agbalya): They accounted for 1/5 of the army and the loud sound of their guns were used as an intimidation strategy.

WHEN: During the Dahomey Kingdom reign of the 18th and 19th century until the colonization of current day Benin by the French.

WHY: As the slave trade became more and more prevalent and as wars with neighboring tribes, countries and kingdoms became imminent, the Dahomey Kingdom started to lose more and more men who could fight for the kingdom. The women were first recruited from delinquent, outsiders or captives from other neighboring countries or tribes. Others were princesses who were attracted by weapons or volunteers or those drawn from a lot. This mix matched lot of women turned into one of the most fierce and impressive women warriors in all of history.

Now that you have an introduction, let’s get into more about these women. Being a woman warrior was no easy task and was not taken lightly. They were the bodyguards of the King and lived in the royal palace with him. No one, except on special occasions, was allowed in the Royal Palace with the King except for these women and the King never went anywhere without the protection of the N’Nonmiton. So, as you can see, they were a pretty big deal. Even when they left the Royal Palace, they were held in such high respect that they were escorted by servants who made sure none of the townspeople looked at them or disturbed them. However, there was a price to pay to become a part of the women warriors. They had to leave their family, vowed to die for the King, and were sworn to celibacy. If one of them were found pregnant they could risk expulsion from the N’Nonmiton or worse, they could risk being sentenced to death. Only the King could take them as a wife or give them to male warriors who showed a certain bravery in battle. So even as the best warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom and protectors of the King, they were still considered property of the King.

The N’Nonmiton were abolished after putting up long, gruesome fighting against French colonizers, but their memory and legacy live on in tradition in Benin. These women were also known for their exceptional and meticulous performances during parades for the King. Their dancing, singing and impressive use of weapons as props proved highly influential on the Fon people. Even so, that in present-day Benin, their dances and rituals are still performed in their memory. And women are still a part of the armed forces in Benin in part to carry on the legacy of these devoted, powerful, cutthroat women warriors.


Jane Eagleton



Grammar with Elodie — intonation and vowels

By | Podcast | One Comment

Bonjour tout le monde!

Elodie Kaplan, our wonderful co-director of the learning center sits down with us and gives us grammar and pronunciation tips when learning French. In this series of the Mais Oui! Podcast, get to know her and improve your French!

For the first episode, Elodie dives straight into pronunciation of vowels and intonation. On y va!




“Ça va ?” : A conversation

By | Language | No Comments

Salut tout le monde, ça va?

Have you ever noticed how much francophones use the phrase ça va? Yeah, a lot. Like a lot, a lot. It feels like you and I could have an entire conversation using different variations of ça va!
Let’s highlight ways to use this simple phrase to expand our vocabulary and converse more naturally. I took the liberty of coming up with a little made-up conversation between two imaginary friends to start us off on our ça va journey. On y va !


M: “Salut Hélène, ça va ?” 
H: “Salut Marie ! Oui, ça va merci. Et toi ?
M: “Bah, ça va bien.”
H:Ça va ton nouvel boulot ?”
M: Ça va très bien ! J’adore être avocate.”
H: “J’ai toujours dit que ça t’irait bien.”
M: “Et toi ? Ton nouvel boulot ? Ça va ?”
H: “En fait, pas beaucoup. Être médecin est vraiment difficile.”
M: “T’inquiètes pas, cela deviendra plus facile avec le temps. Ça va aller.”
H: “Merci Marie! Alors, je m’en vais. Je t’appelerai demain. Ça ira?”
M: “Bien sûr. A bientôt!”


After all of those ça va‘s (9 to be exact), are you still with me? How many different definitions of ça va did you find within that conversation? Ça va is probably one of the most useful and versatile sayings in the French language and highly utilized in familiar, friendly speech. Its meanings can range from “How are you?” to “It suits you!” Master this phrase and it’s meanings and you’re on your way to mastering conversational French.

Let’s dissect the above conversation to really see how simply you can use ça va in many different ways in a casual conversation.

M: “Salut Hélène, ca va ?”
        Hey Helen, how’s it going?
H: “Salut Marie! Oui, ça va merci. Et toi?
       Hey Marie! I’m good, you?
M: “Bah, ça va bien.”
        Oh, it’s going well.
H:Ça va ton nouvel boulot?” 
How’s your new job

M: Ça va très bien ! J’adore être avocat, c’est sûr.”
        Oh, it’s going great! I love being a lawyer, that’s for sure. 
H: “Bon, j’ai toujours dit que ça t’irait.”
        Good! I always said that it suits you
M: “Et toi ? Ton nouvel boulot ? Ça va ?”
        And you? Your new job? How is that working?
H: “En fait, pas beaucoup. Être médecin est vraiment dûre.”
        In fact, not really. Being a doctor is really hard. 
M: “T’inquiètes pas, il deviendra plus facile avec du temps. Ça va aller.”
        Don’t worry, it’ll get easier with time. It will be okay
H: “Merci Marie ! Alors, je m’en vais. Je t’appelerai demain. Ça ira?”
       Thanks, Marie! Okay, well I’m off. I’ll call you tomorrow. Will that work?
M: Ça va. A bientôt!”
        Okay. See you!


There are also many more ways to use ça va. In fact, here is a list of ones that we have learned and ones to try out:

  • Ça va, Marc ? / How’s it going, Marc?
  • Oui, ça va. / Fine.
  • Tu vas bien, André ? / Are you okay, André?
  • Ça va. / Yes, I’m okay.
  • Il faut être prêt dans une heure, ça va ? / You have to be ready in an hour, okay?
  • Ça va. / okay.
  • Oh ! Ça va ! / Hey, that’s enough! (A personal favorite)
  • Ça va venir / It’ll happen, it will come.
  • Ça te va (bien) / That suits you.
  • Ça lui va bien / That looks good on him/her.
  • On va partir vers midi, ça va ? / We’ll leave around noon, is that ok? Does that work for you?
  • Ça va les filles ? / How’s it going, girls?
  • Ça va le nouvel ordi ? / How’s the new computer working?
  • Ça va les filles ? / How’s it going, girls?
  • Ça va aller ?  / Will it be okay? Will that work?
  • Ça va aller /  It will be okay.
  • Ça va le nouvel ordi ? / How’s the new computer working?

(examples found from https://www.thoughtco.com/ca-va-vocabulary-1371141)

Don’t hesitate to try out these phrases and get to talking.
A bientôt, mes amis!

Jane Eagleton

Patricia’s must see DVD’s

By | Recommendation | No Comments

Patricia Florio is a member of the Alliance Française and a valued patron of the Brown library. One of the things she loves most about the Brown Library is the large DVD collection. Get to know her favorites and read her recommendations!


Life and Work of Claude Chabrol
2011, 1 hr 1 m
Celebrate the birthday of this famed French filmmaker with him, his family and friends. DELIGHTFUL.

This film centers around the birthday party of filmmaker Claude Chabrol. Mr. Chabrol talks about his approach to film-making as he sings and charms his friends.




10e Chambre — Instants d’audience (10th District Court)
2004, Raymond Depardon, 1 hr 35 min
A fascinating documentary examining the French judicial system through filmed actual hearings.

Judge Bernard-Requin is organized and objective as she manages various offenders with differing charges. An insightful view of the French legal system which will fascinate attorneys as well as non-legal viewers.




Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter)
1992, Claude Sautet, 1 h 45 m
An emotional story of a violinist and the violin maker who repairs her violin, but breaks her heart.

With Ravel music in the background, this movie explores the coldness of love
relationships between people. The actors lives are closely connected, but their attitudes toward each other are troubling and volatile.



Je l’aimais (Someone I loved)
2009, Zabou Breitman, 1 h 53 m
Can we help someone who is suffering rejection by telling our story of pain and sorrow?

A rejected daughter-in-law is comforted by her father-in-law who tells her his story of love and despair. A vast spectrum of emotions is examined in sensual and vivid detail.




All of these movies are available at the Brown library for check out, if you have a regular or library membership! A bientôt!

Reporting from the treetops of Madagascar

By | Francophone Fun | No Comments

So here we are, dear reader… on a new adventure. Why would we stop at La Martinique when another Francophone pocket of the world calls. Let’s trade shipwrecks and volcanoes for island deserts, tropical rain forests and big discoveries and head to Madagascar!

So, Madagascar… know anything about it? Given a second thought beyond the beloved children’s animated movie? I hadn’t either, but now I do! Let’s get down in the dirt and discover Madagascar together. Now, I don’t pretend to amuse the idea that an entire country can be discovered in one small blog post. HOWEVER, we can catch a glimpse into Madagascar’s rich ecological and environmental history and go from there.

“Why focus on the ecology and environment of Madagascar?” Good question. Well, Madagascar was once a part of the super continent Gondwana but later split off to form the island it is today. Hold on, this becomes relevant. The animal and plant species stuck on the island after it split became isolated and started to form their own adaptations and subspecies which are unique only to Madagascar. Think Galapagos islands and all of Darwin’s special discoveries of new species. It’s the same deal with Madagascar. If this doesn’t interest you, let me see if this helps: a photo of Madagascar’s national tree – the baobab.

Look at this tree, people. Is that not one of the most magnificent things you’ve ever seen? If you say no, then this is not the post for you because I am truly in love with this tree and am dedicating the rest of this article to it… This is the Adansonia grandidieri, one of the six species of Baobab trees on the island of Madagascar. There are more species of Baobab trees found in Australia, Arabia and Africa, but this specific species is unique to Madagascar. The Adansonia grandidieri was named after Alfred Grandidier, who apparently was a big shot scientist in France. He made many discoveries in Madagascar, discovering about 50 new species of amphibians and reptiles. Bravo les scientifiques

Okay, back to the trees. The Adansonia grandidieri can get up to 3 meters wide and 25 – 30 meters tall (this is the Alliance Française, we use the metric system). They produce vitamin-C rich seeds that are fresh or used for their oil. Just image a tree that large in your front yard…  food and climbing for days!

Researching and getting to know the Adansonia grandidieri isn’t all fun and games. Unfortunately, with the growing need for agricultural goods, agricultural lands are swallowing up the Adansonia grandidieri habitat. There were once forests full of Adansonia grandidieri, but now they are now dispersed over large agricultural fields. Consequently, they fall prey to fires, competition from weeds and seed predation, all of which hinder their ability to reproduce and for little baby trees to grow. And this specific species of baobab tree is the most exploited in Madagascar, due in part to it’s rich seed.

However, efforts are being made to protect and boost the survival of the Adansonia grandidieri. And thank goodness for that, because these are gentle giants and beauties to behold. If you are curious about more species unique to the island of Madagascar, check out this website and keep fuelling your curiosity!

A bientôt, mes amis!

Jane Eagleton





What lurks beneath the surface?

By | Francophone Fun | 4 Comments

Time to stop treating la France Hexagonale like it is the only part of France that matters. Let’s travel to Les Caraïbes and explore La Martinique.

Now, if your interest is sparked by the past and adventure, then you are like me and Martinique is the place for you. I don’t know about you all, but reading only cold hard facts about La Martinique sounds a little boring.  Although, it is important to know that La Martinique is very much a part of la République Française, is on the euro,  was known (economically and culturally) as the Paris of Les Caraïbes in its heyday,  and that the majority of people there speak Créole Martiniquais. No, I am looking for the spooky, and eerie… you know, in the wake of Halloween and all.

Now that you followed me all the way to Martinique, you might as well continue on my adventure to the city of St. Pierre, on May 8, 1902. Imagine a city filled with tourists, merchants, the people of St. Pierre of course, all happily going about their day. And then… BOOM! an earth-shattering and life-altering rumble from Mt. Pelée, the active volcano that looms over St. Pierre. Soon, fire fills the town and smoke surges through the city and reaches la bord de la mer, where many merchant and cargo ships were anchored. Not even the seafaring vessels were able to escape the fury unleashed by Mt. Pelée. Boats were being torn in half, pummeled by lava and debris. The cracking of wood and the cry of sailors were muddled only by the screeches of the volcano herself. However, the smoke finally cleared and revealed a once thriving city now demolished and left with few survivors. Close to 40,000 people died, according to The New York Times. One of the only survivors was a prisoner who was so well imprisoned that his cell protected him from the chaos of the volcano.

Okay, I get it, you’re thinking “Jane, what is this? I didn’t casually open up this blog to suddenly get so sad.” Well, dearest reader, out of all chaos and devastation must come something beautiful, right? To show you, let’s travel 115 years into the future, to Martinique aujourd’hui. Here, you find a town who never truly recovered from the catastrophe that was the eruption of Mt. Pelée. Even though St. Pierre never reverted back to being the “Paris of the Carribean”, it is now a quaint town known for history and the arts.

You could say that both history and art drew me to St. Pierre. Even after 115 years, evidence of the catastrophic volcanic eruption remains… in shipwrecks. Many many shipwrecks. Both haunting and inviting, these shipwrecks drew me in like fishermen lure in fish. I was hooked. More than 10 serene ships lie beneath the calm waters of St. Pierre teaming with wildlife and history. While you might have to look harder onshore to see the effects of Mt. Pelée’s eruption in 1902, its memory lives on in vivid beautiful blues and rusted reds below the waterline in a ship graveyard.

RAISINIER were all casualties of the eruption. They all lie right off the coast of St. Pierre as relics and reminders of what happened on May 8, 1902. They lie anywhere between 50 and 200 feet underwater. While they have all been scoured for treasure and swept for trinkets, they are still beauties to behold. Buried under the sea, these ships hold wonder and capture the attention of the adventurer and detective inside us all.

So, dearest lecteur and fellow adventurer, I will leave you with this task: pick up your scuba gear and don’t just read about this legendary ship graveyard. Go visit these shipwrecks for yourself. Swim with the wreckage, explore the vessels and then report back. I’ll be waiting.

À bientôt!

Jane Eagleton



Shipwrecks Of The French West Indies