Legendary Queens And Women of Africa… The Precolonial Era


What do we know about women in Africa? what do we know about women warriors and queens of Africa pre-colonial and during the colonial era? Your guess is as good as mine. We know a lot of about African kings even though not accurate enough, but we know little or nothing about our queens. Over the years we have been made to believe that the man is a symbol of the power; and while this may be true for many tribes/empires in Africa, there were also empires with extraordinary women leadership. It is not accurate to depict Africa as a Patriarchal or Matriarchal society as there were many brave and clever women in Africa whose government has exerted a great influence on history of the continent as much as there were for the men .

So, these are some of the brightest black queens that left their mark on the sands of time in the history of Africa!

1. Princess Amina or Aminatu The Expansionst – Queen of Zazzau (Zaria)

Amina, the Muslim queen-warrior was a Zarian princess and the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku – the founder of the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536 who ruled up until 1566. After the death of her brother in 1576, Amina ascended the throne. She had an outstanding military career as a professional soldier and was Known as a great military strategist. This black queen- cavalry-trained Amina took part in the military campaigns, fought many wars that expanded the southernmost Hausa kingdom. She ruled for 34 years and also made a big contribution to improvement of trade. The former capital and the modern city of Zaria, was named after Amina’s younger sister, Zariya.

Queen Amina

Princess Amina and her legendary was the inspiration the known TV series “Xena: Warrior Princess”.

To read extensively about Princess Amina of Zazzau, please click here

2. Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh of Abomey And The Dahomean Amazons

She was the leader of the Abomey Amazons, a special section of the Dahomey army developed from the Ahosi – a group of royal wives trained in military arts to defend and protect the king. Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh became popular for her fierceness during King Behanzin’s reign. In 1851, she led an army of 6,000 women against the Egba in Abeokuta, a formidable target — a huge town ringed with mud-brick walls and harboring a population of 50,000. And while the Amazons were armed with spears, bows and swords, the Egba had European cannons. In 1889, Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh and her female troops were involved in an incident that resulted in a full-scale war with the French colonists over trading rights. She led the 2,000 Amazons of the 12,000 troops King Behanzin led into battle. The Amazons attacked the French troops attempting to cross a river, inflicting heavy casualties and even engaged in hand to hand combat with the survivors eventually forcing the French army to retreat. While the King’s army was later defeated, She and her Amazons burned fields, villages and cities rather than let them fall to the French.

Seh Dong Hong Beh

Whether Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh died or was captured, we will never know because nothing was on record to show that she was conquered but Africa will never forget such a brave woman.

To read extensively about Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, please click here

3. Queen Nzinga Mbandi of Ndongo – The Revolutionary Leader of Angola

Nzinga Mbandi was born to Ngola (King) Kiluanji and Kangela in 1583 and she was a ruthless and powerful ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms-modern day nation of Angola.

In the sixteenth century, when the Portuguese stake in the slave trade was threatened by England and France,they transferred their slave-trading activities southward to the Kongo and South West Africa. As they entered the final phase of the conquest of Kongo and Angola, their most stubborn opposition came from a queen who was a great head of state, and one of a kind military leader.

Queen Njinga 1

This black queen fearlessly and cleverly fought for the freedom and statue of her kingdoms against the Portuguese, who dominated the area at the time. She inherited the kingdom from her brother, Ngola Mbandi, who committed suicide for failing his people.Nzinga allied Ndongo with Portugal in a political move, and was baptized as “Ana de Sousa”, with the Portuguese colonial governor serving as her godfather. Portugal betrayed Ndong and Nzinga was forced to flee to Matamba when war broke out. where she took over as ruler after capturing Matamba’s ruler – a woman by the name of Mwongo Matamba. Nzinga with Matamba’s army fought the portuguese on several occassions before joining it to the Kingdom of Ndongo after she regained some part and then made Matamba her capital. Queen Nzinga died on December 17, 1663 at the age of 80 after over twenty-eight years of war with colonials. She is remarkably Africa’s strongest woman

To read more into the life and times of queen Nzinga Mbande, Please click here

4. QUEEN NDATE YALLA and Her Resistant Movement of Senegal

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj in 1810 to the family Tédiek and she was the last great queen of the Waalo, a kingdom in the northwest of modern-day Senegal and Gambia. Ndaté Yalla and her sister Ndjeumbeut at young ages were educated in the art of war by their mother who was also a trained fighter. In October 1846 in Ndar, the capital of Waalo kingdom. Ndate Yalla was officially crowned the ruler of waalo after she succeeded her sister, Queen Ndjeumbeut Mbodj who died earlier that year. She ruled the kingdom strongly and developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to reckon with in her reign just like the Amazons of Dahomey. 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 who later led the battle that finally defeated Queen Ndate Yalla’s strong opposition to foreigners dominating her land and eventually colonized it. In 1847 was her famous challenge, where 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.“

Queen Ndatte
Queen Ndate Yalla 

In February 1855, Queen Ndate Yalla lost the battle of resistance against the french, but not the war which eventually continued to be a war of resistance until the early part of the twentieth century by Lat Dior Diop, and many other ‘Gelewars’. She later sent into exile in Ndimb in the northern part of the Waalo and she died in December 1856 after twenty-two years of reign, In Dagana where today a statue has been erected in her honor (the only one erected in honor of a queen nationwide)

You can find extensive details on the life of Queen Ndate Yalla right here

5. KIMPA VITA of Kongo And Her Anthonian Movement

Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in Songololo, a region around Mount Kibangu in the Kingdom of Kongo now a part of modern day Angola. At 18 years old, she began to hear the teachings of Mama Appolonia Mafuta – a woman possessed the spirit of Tata Mzambia Mpungu. Even though her parents were Christians, Vita Kimpa eventually got trained as a Nganga marinda or as a person who is able to communicate with spirits (the supernatural world) and so she also began to possess the spirit. One day Vita Kimpa became sick and died, then woke up after severals when she was about to be buried by the village elders. She said her spirit was taken to heaven where she was given visions and taught a lot about God and her people before she was sent back. In 1704 she said her body was possessed by St. Anthony, and argued that Jesus was a black man -as matter of fact he was a Kongolese, she criticized some of the teachings of the catholic church for being to “whites” and also criticize the Italian Capuchin missionaries for not supporting black saints, and attempted to stop the devastating cycle of civil wars between contenders for the Kongolese throne. In 1706, Vita Kimpa was arrested on the count of being a witch and heretic, tried under the Kongo law and was burned to death after she was beaten and torture in order to denounce her claims.

PROPHETEST Kimpa Vita of Kongo
Kimpa Vita

Her anthonian movement was exported to the new world through slaves sold, in Brazil, Surinam, Haiti, Jamaica, and the US. And the Anthonians are said to be the inspiration behind many revolutions in these countries.

6. QUEEN RANAVALONA I  – The Self Sufficient Ruler Of Madagascar

Ranavalona I (born Rabodoandrianampoinimerina; 1778 – August 16, 1861), also known as Ramavo and Ranavalo-Manjaka I, was sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar from 1828 to 1861. After positioning herself as queen following the death of her young husband and second cousin, Radama I, Ranavalona pursued a policy of total independent and self-sufficiency, reducing economic and political ties with European powers, repelling a French attack on the coastal town of Foulpointe, and taking vigorous measures to eradicate the small but growing Malagasy Christian movement initiated under Radama I by members of the London Missionary Society. She made heavy use of the traditional practice of fanompoana (forced labor as tax payment) to complete public works projects and develop a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000 Imerina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the island and further expand the realm. The combination of regular warfare, disease, tax payment and harsh measures of justice resulted in a high mortality rate among soldiers and civilians alike during her 33-year reign. This black queen was one of the proudest rulers who took pride in promoting and conserving great African traditions even in the face of growing influence by the westerners through the “church”. Although greatly obstructed by Ranavalona’s policies, French and British political interests in Madagascar remained undiminished. Divisions between traditionalist (the conservatives) and pro-European factions (the progressives) at the queen’s court created opportunities that European intermediaries exploited in an attempted coup d’etat done to hasten the succession of Ranavalona’s son, Rakoto who later become king Radama II. The young prince disagreed with many of his mother’s policies and was amenable to French proposals for the exploitation of the island’s resources, as expressed in the Lambert Charter he concluded with a French representative in 1855. These plans and coup d’etat were never successful, however, and Rakoto was not able to take the throne until 1861, when Ranavalona died aged 83.

queen-ranavalona_i
Queen Ranavalona I

Queen Ranavalona 1 was remarkably one of Africa’s strongest women ruler and the most brutal of them all. This black queen was one of the few African rulers who were able to repel colonization totally during their reign. Click Here to read more into her life and reign as queen of madagascar

These legendary women (And more*) left their mark on the history of Africa and will forever be remembered. Hope one day their stories will be told in movies for generations to watch and learn from.

*More legends will be updated soon as the researches are completed.. Stay with us!

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Disclaimer: Africa Heritages claims no credits to any of the images used in this historical article.

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