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FIERCE, FREE, AND FEROCIOUS-
AMAZONS WERE THE WARRIOR QUEENS OF ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY.
They ruled their corner of the world in all-female tribes, controlling their land and scaring the daylights out of any man who tried to interfere.
The original stories of Amazons come from Greek mythology—although there now is evidence that some version of this civilization really did exist. In any case, the very idea of Amazon warriors apparently had the Greeks scared silly. Greek authors wrote endlessly about the fierceness of these fighting women, and their stories are filled with images of ruthless Amazons raiding and pillaging their way through the ancient world.
According to the Greeks, these tribes of warrior women lived around the Black Sea, and terrified just about anybody who came near their turf. The Amazons didn't mind pairing up with men from other cultures from time to time, but they had no interest in keeping them around. Nor did they mind having children: but true to the Amazon way, they only kept the girls, and sent the boys off to live with their fathers. The girls were trained to be true Amazons, and learned how to hunt, ride a horse, and, or course, do battle with the best of the warriors.
One legend even has it that the only way for a girl to prove herself as a full-fledged Amazon was to kill her first enemy in battle.
Hey—we never said they were saints.
IS XENA AN AMAZON
OF COURSE! Xena (played by Lucy Lawless on T.V.) is theultimate Amazon. The show may not be true to the historical record, but Xena's warrior ways and independent lifestyle are straight out of the Amazon rulebook. For one thing, Xena is an expert in the ways of war and fierce in the martial arts. (Her favorite weapon is the "chakram"—kind of a fearsome boomerang that wreaks havoc on olden-day bad guys.) Xena's attitude toward men is also pure Amazon—she's willing to engage in an occasional flirtation, but has no interest in settling down. Xena prefers to hang with her Amazon sisters to get the job done.
Amazons, Amazons Everywhere
But the Greeks don't have a monopoly on the Amazon tall tale. Stories of warring female tribes pop up in narratives from all over the world. In Chinese mythology, writers described "the woman's kingdom," referring to a strange and abundant land where women ruled alone. Indian lore also refers to the rhackshasis—female warriors ruled by other women.
For real-live Amazons, you should turn to South America in you history books. According to the Spanish explorers who first "discovered" the New World, warring women showed up just about everywhere they went.
In Chile, the Spanish conquistadors told stories of Gaboimilla (Indian translation: "Heaven of Gold"), who was called the Queen of the Amazons in that region. Another explorer named Orellana complained of being attacked by an all-female army in Venezuela, and conquistador Pizarro wrote of the women warriors who killed many of his men during his travels throughout South America. In Peru, the land of the "puna" is well documented as a civilization of female tribes who retreated to the high plateaus of their land. (The puna regions today are still considered "women-only" territory.)
THINK JOSEPHINE BAKER AND YOU THINK GLAMOUR—
Wild, dangerous kind of glamour that makes you want to run off to Paris and do something intoxicating and reckless. Maybe you'd scandalize Parisian nightclubs, or work for the French Resistance. In fact, checking those two tasks off your "to-do" list would only give you a glimpse of what it was like to walk in Josephine's sequined, stiletto heels.
Not only did Josephine Baker break all the rules about feminine independence, but she exploded every idea about what a black woman could be by simply and elegantly refusing to recognize them. She was just too busy basking in international acclaim, entertaining dashing suitors, and even helping the French underground fight the Nazis.
WHO HAD TIME FOR
"Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles." --Pablo Picasso
The French love affair with Josephine lasted for half a century, as she developed from a minor celebrity into a full-fledged national heroine after her work for the French Resistance in World War II. She was sickened by the treatment of blacks in the United States and boycotted America for the majority of her career. She returned to her homeland as an important spokesperson during the civil rights "March on Washington" in 1963, but would always consider Paris her real home. Her death in 1975 triggered an unprecedented national mourning, and she was given an elaborate state funeral—the first ever for a non-native French citizen.
Josephine's "to-do" list might have looked something like this
1. Get fancy job dancing with with chorus line in Chicago
with Ziegfield Follies in New York
racy nightclubs in Paris!
2. Be international <s>cabaret star</s> Film star — Zou-Zou
— Princess Tam-Tam
3. Become toast of Paris
Walk leopard down Champs-Elysee
4. Try daring spy work : Germany occupation French Air Force French Resistance 5. Win <s>Medal of Resistance</s> <s>French Legion of Honor</s>
6. Entertain dashing suitors. Marry the lucky ones. Willie
7. Live in exotic locales: Paris Morocco
Back to Paris
8. Stateside: Weigh in on civil rights nightmare '63 March on Washington "Her magnificent
dark body, a new model to
the French, proved for the first
time that black was beautiful."
New Yorker correspondent
See Janet Flanner's profile at page 34
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