QUEEN NDATE YALLA of Senegal (1810 – 1860)
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, a true ‘Linguere’ developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to reckon with in her reign. The story of this Senegambia Queen is best amplified in oral tradition by the local griots with ‘Halam’, ‘Ritti’ or other instruments in oral historical narratives. Her women army was similar to the “Amazon” women army of Benin, Behanzin’s fearless protective women’s army. She later went into exile in Ndimb in the northern part of the Waalo and died in Dagana, where today a statue has been erected in her honor (the only one erected in honor of a queen nationwide) – Sainey Faye. NDATE YALLA MBOGE.. THE LAST LINGUERE OF THE KINGDOM OF WAALO.
The Linguere or Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (1810 – 1860) was the last great queen of the Waalo, a kingdom in the northwest of modern-day Senegal and Gambia. This kingdom of ‘Waalo’ was in existence since 1287 A.D. and legendary figures like Ndiadiane Ndiaye have been associated with it by some oral historians especially his epics, which historians still debate about, and mimic in folklore songs. This kingdom has been known and listed by oral historians to have had 60 or more kings and queens; and Ndatte was the last to face the devil that was unchained – General Louis Faidherbe, France, and the Senegalese ‘trailleurs’ (sell outs/traitors). She was a heroine of the resistance against French colonization and Moors invasion. She was also the mother of Sidya Leon Diop or Sidya Ndate Yalla Diop, who went on to become one the greatest resistants to the colonization of Senegal.
Queen Ndate was born in Dagana in 1810 to the family Tédiek, a family that has been enriched by accumulating wealth and weapons through exchanges with the French counters during his long reign. Her father was Brak (King) Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and mother was Linguere (Queen) Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mboge. Note that in those days, Senegalese rulers of kingdoms Wolof bore the title of “Brak “ (Linguere (also: Linger or Linguère) was the title given to the mother or sister of a king in the Serer kingdoms of Sine, Saloum and previously the Kingdom of Baol; and the Wolof kingdoms of Cayor, Jolof, Baol and Waalo in pre-colonial Senegal. The word “Lingeer” means “queen” or “princess” in Serer and Wolof language.)
On the death of Brak Quli Mbaba Diop in 1816, his cousin Linguere Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj succeeded him and decides to install her husband Amar Fatim Borso as Brak of Waalo. This is the first time a Linguere is also the wife of a Brak. The Linguères are always prepared to lead their people militarily and politically. They receive trainings in the profession of arms and they know well how to defend the kingdom in the absence of men. In 1820, the ‘Brak’ (king/ruler) of Waalo and his envoy were on an official business attending to community traditional functions in ‘Ndar’ aka ‘Sor’. The neighboring tribe took advantage of his absence and attacks the capital with the hope to seize it but an army of fighters led by Fatim Yamar herself came to the rescue, defeating the invaders who happen to be the Moorish dissidents. When the army beat the invaders back into retreat and capture; they surprised the attackers and everybody by taking off their armor/uniform to show that they were indeed women and not men who had beaten their adversaries. Now with the response from the group of brave women armed to the teeth, the defeated warriors returned home but their pride of being defeated by group of bold and brave women made them come back, now even stronger but only this time the women’s army could not deal with the invaders so Linguere Fatim Yamar decides to escape with her two daughters 12 and 10 years, Ndjeumbeut and Ndaté Yalla, to continue her lineage. Educated in war, the two girls later lead the kingdom.
Queen Ndate Yalla was officially crowned in October 1846 in Ndar, the capital of Waalo kingdom. She succeeded her sister, Queen Ndjeumbeut Mbodj who died earlier that year. She directs the Kingdom with an iron hand and represents a real threat and a real source of problems for the French settlers who resist it strongly. Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, a true ‘Linguere’ developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to reckon with in her reign. She fought both the Moors who encroached on her territory, and the colonialist army led by Louis Faidherbe known as “the butcher and a bandit” who later became the governor of Saint-Louis (Ndar’ aka ‘Sor’) and colonial head of administration and army. Meanwhile He had impregnated her mistress; a young Malian girl named Diokunda Sidibeh; a Sarahule, and they had a boy whilst on military service in Ndar (Saint Loius), Senegal. – The then capital of “Waalo” (Rumor has it that that child was the son Queen Ndate raised that later became the leader of a major French resistance group). The second year of her reign was marked by an ongoing defiance of the French against which she fought a fierce battle. Queen Ndaté regarded herself as the sole ruler of the Kingdom of Waalo and she was a challenge to the French during her reign and she delivers them a series of fierce battles. In 1847, she opposed the free passage of Sarakolé (Seninke) people by sending a letter to the french governor expressing her willingness to defend the respect of her sovereignty over the valley in these terms: “We guarantee and control the passage of herds in our country; for this reason we take the tenth and we will not accept it any other way. St Louis belongs to the Governor, the kingdom belongs to Kayor Damel and Waalo to Brak. Each of these leaders governs his country as he pleases. “
It was around this time; specifically in September 1850 that she was visited by Father David Boilat, a colonial French-Senegalese on a missionary status. The Queen received him in her compound, surrounded by her court ladies. She was wearing a brightly colored embroidered gown with gold and her son carried on a richly colored loincloth, she was smoking a long black pipe. Her hair braided and adorned with gold nuggets was enclosed in a scarf tied in the cone, very high on the head. On the bust intermingled of gold necklaces and amulets covered with leather. She raised her hand in welcome, rattling the twisted bracelets go with her gold earrings and rings set with amber and agate. As the visitor approaches, with a slightly husky voice the Queen invited the missionary to sit opposite her. She asked him many questions about the role of missionaries and lifestyle in France, the types of government and economic activities. The interpreter translated quickly. The Marosso Tassé Diop, husband of Queen, appeared curious about the military forces available to the colonial power and the last European inventions in weaponry.
For almost ten years, Ndate Yalla managed to keep her kingdom in an illusory peace. But friction ceased not to multiply with the influx of French settlers in St. Louis mainly because of land conflicts due to the untimely appropriation of land belonging to her people by French planters. Moreover, facing the progressive advances of the colonial army in the region, traders of St. Louis began to refuse to pay the fees due to Waalo in other to move on the river and trade in that territory. Deprived of essential tax, the country engaged on the path of resistance. In a strongly worded letter to the governor of St. Louis, Ndete Yalla demanded the evacuation of the plots around the colonial city and under its sovereignty. As quoted below
The goal of this letter is to let you know that the island of Boyo* belongs to me, from my grandfather down to me today. There is nobody who can claim that that country belongs to them; it belongs to me only. I did not sell this country to anybody. I did not entrust it to anybody, nor to any white person. The people to whom I entrusted my land have to right to do anything to it, I will have nothing to say. Nobody can take this land without their authorization; to prove to you that this letter comes from me, when the dispute had been settled in Lampsar, you went back to the fort. There I came to see you with my husband, you were accompanied by Mr. Alsace and de Bamar, you told me that you wanted to see me alone to talk, I told you that there was only my husband and brother present. You also asked me who was the King of the Waalo today. I replied that the King of the Waalo was me. If this is true, and this letter comes from me, I desire that no one should take possession of my territory.
The island of Boyo is located in Mauritania, 15 km north of Saint-Louis in Senegal. It houses the village of N’Diago. It is the cradle of the Boye family of Saint-Louis.- Dr. Y. and www.afrolegends.com.. 1850s Correspondence of Ndate Yalla Mbodj to the French Governor of Senegal
Ndaté will not hesitate to plunder the area around St Louis and threaten the Governor verbally or by correspondence. The French will claim reimbursement for damage caused by “looting” but Ndaté refuse categorically, and proudly. So she finally upholds her rights on the island of Mboyo and Ile de Sor. In November 1850, Ndaté placed a ban on all trades in the backwaters, she also prohibits any European trade on the stops of her kingdom and this pushes the French beyond what they can bear. This presents an opportunity that will later engineer the battalion of chief Louis Faidherbe, who had been appointed governor of French colony (Senegal). Arrived in St. Louis in 1854, this poly technician great friend of Victor Schoelcher (eventually became a champion of the abolition of slavery). The revolt of Queen Ndete Yalla therefore offered him an excuse to undo the recalcitrant Waalo, seize the neighboring kingdoms Baol and Kayor and attempt a coup of decisive force against the Moors who had gone to support the sling chiefdoms local. In 1855 he left St. Louis, armed with powerful gunboats and a column of thousands of soldiers, including an African military force enlisted to fight their own brothers.
Faidherbe named his soldiers “Senegalese riflemen”. In villages around St. Louis, the drums of war began to beat hastily to prepare the people that expedition Waalo was coming. In ten days of walking, Faidherbe, practicing the scorched earth that had him successful in Algeria, devastated everything in its path despite the valiant resistance of the warriors of Waalo. In February 1855, while the Faidherbe’s troops were entering the Waalo, the Linguere spoke to the principal dignitaries of her kingdom as such: “Today, we are invaded by the conquerors. Our army is in disarray. The tiedos of the Waalo, as brave warriors as they are, have almost all fallen under the enemy’s bullets. The invader is stronger than us, I know, but should we abandon the Waalo to foreign hands?” (Aujourd’hui nous sommes envahis par les conquérants. Notre armée est en déroute. Les tiédos du Walo, si vaillants guerriers soient-ils, sont presque tous tombés sous les balles de l’ennemi. L’envahisseur est plus fort que nous, je le sais, mais devrions-nous abandonner le Walo aux mains des étrangers?) … “This country is mine alone!”
While on this expedition; the French colonial troops burned twenty-five villages, looted crops, captured many sheep, donkeys and horses. And carried, by methodically established by the military commissariat accounting two thousand oxen were for whites St. Louis who feared running out of milk and butter. Sensing her lost cause, after several months of resistance Queen Ndaté Yalla found refuge in Kayor where she tried to organize a resistance with her second son Sidya; She eventually lost the battle, but not the war which continued to be a war of resistance until the early part of the twentieth century by Lat Dior Diop, and many other ‘Gelewars’. This conquest would forever change the trajectory of her reign and the geopolitical, military, and geographical road map of Senegambia, “Ganaar” (now called Mauritania), Mali (formerly called French Sudan), and Fouta.. But, broken by grief, in exile she died in December 1856 after twenty-two years of reign.
After the death of Ndaté Yalla, Faidherbe takes her son Sidya, who was only ten years to St. Louis to indoctrinate him. Meanwhile the Queen had instilled in her son Sidya, a sense of national pride and a spirit of a strategist at a young age before he was captured as a hostage in Saint-Louis by General Faidherbe during their bloody war, baptized as ‘Leone’ with Faidherbe himself becoming his godfather, and sent to Algiers for schooling in 1861 (What Faidherbe ignored was that the child had already been educated by his mother).
When Sidya returned to Senegal two years later in 1863, he was enlisted in the French colonial army. Sidya was only 17 years old when the French colony gave him command of Canton Nder; the first African or Senegalese to hold such a post. But as the saying goes —like mother, like son, he refused to do their dirty job by joining forces with the European colonial foreigners and mercenary apparatus, against his mother’s kingdom and people. He then changed strategy, got rid of all that he was taught by the Europeans, return to the traditions of his people and took on his traditional outfit (The son of the queen wears braids Thiédo we know more commonly known as dreadlocks). He vows not even speak the language of the colonists nor wear their clothes, and he rallied with Lat Dior Diop and others, which later resulted in his betrayal, and capture by the colonial forces; and exile to Gabon (just like Samori Toure) in 1878 where he died. (Life of Sidya and Lat Dior Diop is story for another day)
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, along with several other African heroines played a crucial role in the struggle for African liberation. Oral historians (also known as griots) have immortalised her bravery, and she remains a symbol of female empowerment. During her life and afterwards, Mbodj was a symbol of resistance against French colonialism. Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj died in Dagana, where a statue erected in her honor still stands. –
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- Sane, Anta (June 2015). “Gender Inequality in the Process of Good Governance: The Case of the Senegalese Parliament” (PDF). CODESRIA. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
- http://matricien.org/geo-hist-matriarcat/afrique/heroine/ndate-yalla-mboj Le Projet Matricien. Retrieved 15 October 2015
- Correspondence of Ndate Yalla Mbodj to the French Governor of Senegal