Victoria Montou, also known as Abdaraya Toya, was an exceptional woman who played a vital role in the Haitian Revolution. Born in the late 18th century, Montou was enslaved in the kingdom of Dahomey and brought to Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, as a slave. During the revolution, she fought for the abolition of slavery and the establishment of an independent Haiti.
Montou was a member of the Dahomey tribe, an ethnic group located in present-day Benin, West Africa. The Dahomeans were known for their fierce fighting skills and were often hired as mercenaries by European slave traders. Montou’s training as a warrior began in Dahomey, where she was trained to fight with spears and knives. When she was captured and brought to Saint-Domingue, she used these skills to fight for her freedom and the freedom of others.
Before the revolution, Montou worked alongside Dessalines (leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the 1805 constitution) as a slave on the estate of Henry Duclos. It was during this time that Montou not only developed a close bond with Dessalines but also provided him with early military training. Their shared experiences and deep-rooted hatred for slavery cemented their alliance.
In the midst of the revolution, Montou enlisted in the Haitian rebel army under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. She quickly established herself as a dauntless warrior, fearlessly plunging headfirst into the heat of battle. Montou became renowned for her ability to embolden her fellow soldiers with resounding war cries and unwavering valor.
Throughout the slave rebellion and civil war, she fought as an active-duty soldier. There is at least one documented instance where she commanded troops during combat.
At the head of about fifty slaves, there was Toya, with a scythe in her hand, a hoe on one shoulder and an indigo knife hanging from the belt of her jacket. Under Toya’s command, one group was sent to deforestation, another to plowing, others to harvest grain and put it in large baskets. She had a strong voice, and she issued commands like a general…. A small number of rebels, under the command of Toya, was quickly surrounded and taken prisoner by the regiment. During the battle, Toya escaped, pursued by two soldiers. A struggle took place between them and Toya; she injured one of them seriously, but the other, helped by a few more soldiers who arrived in time, took Toya prisoner.
Montou’s journey through the Haitian Revolution was marked by many significant moments. One such moment occurred in 1804 when Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a prominent leader in the revolution, proclaimed himself emperor of Haiti. During this period, as Montou neared the end of her life, Dessalines recognized her immense contribution and paid homage to her unwavering dedication to the cause of freedom. He demanded that the doctor treat Montou with the same reverence and respect as himself, emphasizing her position as his aunt and someone who had shared his ideals long before the revolution.
Upon Montou’s passing, she was honored with a state funeral befitting a national hero. The ceremony was a solemn affair, graced by the presence of Empress Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité and a procession led by eight sergeants. The dignitaries’ attendance underscored Montou’s significance and acknowledged her as a symbol of resistance and liberation.
Today, Montou is remembered for her contributions to the Haitian Revolution and the establishment of an independent Haiti. She is also recognized for her role in raising and educating Dessalines.