Kosi is the first of five characters in development for Nneka Gigi Studios, an animation and design studios creating 2D and 3D characters integrating the rich African ancestry of braids/ hair culture while highlighting the profound women across time whom have fought tirelessly against colonialism
Kosi was first inspired by Marvel’s Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Dora Milaje are a team of women who serve as special forces for the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
These fictional characters are inspired by “The Mino of Benin”, commonly referred to as Dahomey Amazons by European writers. The Mino of Benin existed from the 18th to the early 20th century in Dahomey, now known as Benin, a country in West Africa. Dahomey’s armed forces were led by the Mino, a fierce all-female army tasked with guarding the palace, royalty and fighting for the territory of their country. The word ‘Mino’ means ‘my mother’ in Fon, a major African ethnic and linguistic group. They are the largest ethnic group in Benin.
Although early pictures of The Mino of Benin showed these fierce warriors with hair, Marvel’s Dora Milaje were bald. Integrating the visual aesthetics of the real and fictional essences of the characters and real life women, Kosi was bald with scalp markings inspired by General Okoye but with a weaponized braid, “Sarraounia‘s Plate”. For those who may not know, plate is another word for braid.
When creating Kosi, it was important to incorporate the history of female African and Black American heroines.
Inspiration for Kosi’s Hair and Weapons:
Sarraounia‘s Plate (Kosi’s Weaponized Braid):
Sarraounia Mangou was a chief/priestess of the animist Azna subgroup of the Hausa, who fought French colonial troops of the Voulet–Chanoine Mission at the Battle of Lougou in 1899. She is the subject of the 1986 film Sarraounia based on the novel of the same name by Nigerien writer/ poet, novelist and trade unionist, Abdoulaye Mamani, who co-wrote the screenplay with Med Hondo, a Mauritanian film director, producer, screenwriter, actor and voice actor.
In the late 1800s, the French Voulet- Chanoine Mission aka the Central African-Chad Mission, led by the captains Paul Voulet and Julien Chanoine, were dispatched to Africa by the French government to conquer the territories between the Niger River and Lake Chad and unify all French territories in West Africa.
History says that after leaving French Sudan in January 1899, they became very callous and subjected the native people to all kinds of inhumane treatment. They were unstoppable until they met Sarraounia. Although there were rumors that her magic defeated her enemies, it was her undeniable skill of negotiation and tactical fighting that secured her victories.
She was born with yellow eyes, like those of a panther and so the panther became the symbol of the Azna. She became queen at the age of 20, after her father’s death.
Nzinga’s Casket (Kosi’s Breast Plate):
Nzinga Mbande was Queen of the Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba, located in present-day northern Angola. Queen Nzinga of Angola is one of the most celebrated African women to resist European colonization.
Born into the ruling family of Ndongo, Nzinga received military and political training as a child, and she demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises as an ambassador to the Portuguese Empire. Although her legacy is controversial and paradoxical, Nzinga led four decades (1620s to 1660s) of warfare against the Portuguese in Angola.
Assata’s Casket (Kosi’s Talking Drum):
Born JoAnne Deborah Chesimard but known to us as Assata Shakur, lies the legacy of one of the most coveted Black feminist and liberators of all time.
A leading figure in the 70s Black Liberation Army and Black icon, Assata Shakur was given life for allegedly murdering a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. The Queens, N.Y, native has been living in Cuba for over 30 years, after having escaped from the prison in 1977. Despite several attempts to bring Assata back to the U.S. to face charges, Gustavo Machin, the deputy director of American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said to Yahoo News in 2015 that it is “Off The Table”.
Hangbe’s Machete (Kosi’s Tactical Machete ):
Queen Hangbe, who according to local legend, is the founder of the The Mino of Benin, the elite group of female warriors mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Fleur Macdonald, a contributor for BBC Travel, wrote the following in a 2018 article after being granted an interview with Dahomian royalty, descendants of Queen Hangbe:
“After a short rule, she was forcibly deposed by her power-hungry younger brother, Agaja. The current Queen Hangbe told me that all traces of her ancestor’s reign were erased by Agaja, who believed that only men should hold the throne. In a dusty museum that lies within the walls of the Royal Palaces in Abomey, the monarchs’ elaborate bronze sceptres are displayed in order of their reign. There is no sign of one belonging to Hangbe, and some historians question whether she existed at all.
Yet her legacy lived on through her mighty female soldiers. Oral and written accounts differ over the origins of the women-only corps.”
Released in the UK in 2019, Lupita Nyong'o, debuted her documentary film, Warrior Women. The film journeys across Benin, West Africa, to uncover the lost history of these all female army who fought African and European armies alike in up to 4,000 strong.
Watch the trailer:
Watch full documentary:
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Despite the controversial histories that may follow these Queen’s legacies, each of these women inspired me as I designed Kosi. I may not agree with each and every action they took but I do take my hat off and kneel to their grand accomplishments in the face of colonialism, gender inequality and the never ending erasure of Black female voices in history. We make their/ our stories and voices visible when we read and write the texts that the world tries to make us forget, create art in the likeness of our female ancestors and whisper these stories to our
Kosi is a 2D character that will be rendered in 3D for a short animation film and graphic cartoon book that will debut sometime in summer 2021- spring 2022.