The Dora Milaje are an elite group of female warriors pledged to protect their king and homeland of Wakanda. Their intense training has made them extremely formidable in combat, just ask John Walker, who wound up on the wrong side of a scuffle with the Dora Milaje in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”
A relatively recent addition in comics canon, the Dora Milaje – which translates to mean “adored ones” – have already captivated fans of the MCU with key roles in “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” The strong-willed, loyal and fearless members of the Dora Milaje serve as personal bodyguards to the King of Wakanda in both the comics and on-screen, and they have proven to be a compelling bunch with important historical ties.
The Dora Milaje in the Comics and MCU
Introduced during Christopher Priest’s run with Black Panther, the Dora Milaje make their appearance in the 1998 issue, “Black Panther No. 1.” In their introductory issue, the fictional narrator of the story describes them as “deadly Amazonian high school chicks,” according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter.
A historical custom, the Dora Milaje were an inactive group revived by King T’Challa to help assuage growing political tension in Wakanda. The group was originally viewed as wives-in-waiting for Wakanda’s king in addition to being elite warriors, but T’Challa did not adhere to this custom and viewed the Dora Milaje as more akin to his children.
To form the group, a child was selected from each tribe in Wakanda and trained vigorously with the other members. By selecting one child from each tribe, the king ensures that all tribes are represented with a high place of honor in the royal palace; this practice helped to unify the nation of Wakanda.
The Dora Milaje are the Black Panther’s primary assistance during his various comics arcs, and they have proven to be formidable in their own right. With access to Wakanda’s advanced technology and Vibranium armor and weaponry, the Dora Milaje have helped the Black Panther fight enemies such as Thanos, Doctor Doom, Erik Killmongor and Ulysses Klaw.
The first two to join the revived Dora Milaje in the comics were Nakia and Okoye, and they’ve become central figures in the MCU portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, respectively. Other key members of the group include Ayo (Florence Kasumba), most recently seen fighting Walker in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and Aneka, who develops a romantic relationship with Ayo in the comics. Eventually, Aneka and Ayo believe a new form of government is needed in Wakanda and defect from the Dora Milaje to form their own group called the Midnight Angels.
During the fourth episode of “The Falcon and Winter Soldier,” it is also revealed that Ayo played a substantial role in Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier’s (Sebastian Stan) recovery and mental reprogramming during his time in Wakanda. The episode also showed the lengths of the Dora Milaje’s inherent mistrust of outsiders and reverence for Wakandan technology when Ayo rendered Barnes’s Vibranium arm useless in a matter of seconds, an occurrence he didn’t know was possible.
Barnes’s relationship with the Dora Milaje has become extremely strained during the events of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” In his efforts to track down a group known as The Flag Smashers and recover stolen vials of the super-soldier serum, Barnes released the dangerous prisoner Baron Zemo, who incited the events in “Captain America: Civil War.” In that film, Zemo murders Wakanda’s King T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa. For that action, Zemo remains a primary enemy of Wakanda and the Dora Milaje.
The Dora Milaje’s Deep Historical Roots
Inspiration for the Dora Milaje may have come from a little-known part of world history. In a 2018 column for Time, Arica L. Coleman points to all-female African military corps located in Dahomey, West Africa between the 17th and 19th centuries as a primary comparison. Coleman states that the French referred to these women as “Dahomey Amazons,” which is distinctly similar to how the Dora Milaje are introduced by the narrator in “Black Panther No. 1.”
The similarities don’t stop there, either. In a study published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization much more can be learned about the women soldiers of Dahomey, and they sound exactly like a real-life version of the Dora Milaje.
“In the seventeenth century, the women soldiers of Dahomey probably constituted the King’s bodyguard; they became an elite corps in the army from the mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth century,” the study states. “Today, they remain one of the most famous women’s armies in the history of humanity. Their collective spirit and war-readiness were based on a strict and unique lifestyle: they were often recruited in early adolescence and lived apart from men in the royal palaces. Their rigorous training was punctuated by military exercises, rituals, dances, songs, war cries and military parades, which, according to historical testimonies, they had mastered to perfection.”
The women soldiers of Dahomey were said to be extremely loyal to their king, even serving as a final line of defense for their ruler at times and showing unflinching readiness to lay down their lives to protect him.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie received praise for its accurate depiction of African culture and customs, and Priest’s run in the comics appears to have also paid great respect to an often-overlooked part of world history. The Dora Milaje seem perfectly fit for a superhero story, which only makes the women soldiers of Dahomey that much more impressive.