Powerful African Women in History

Women have always held positions of leadership either they were Queens or chiefs or leaders of movements. Some of these women led men to war, ruled kingdoms and resisted colonization. In no particular order, they are:

Ranavalona( 1828 to 1861) 

Became the ruler of the kingdom of Madagascar for 33years after the death of her husband.

She reduced economic and political ties with European powers. In 1832, she forbade the practice of Christianity in Madagascar and within a year, nearly all foreigners left Madagascar.

In 1861, she died in her sleep and 12,000 zebus(cattle) were slaughtered and their meat shared among the population in her honor as the official mourning period lasting 9months. She is seen as a cruel tyrant but modern historians view her as an astute politician who protected the political and cultural sovereignty of her nation from European encroachment.

Powerful African Women in History
Ranavalona

HATSHEPSUT (1473-1458BC)

Beginning in 1478 B.C., Queen Hatshepsut reigned over Egypt for more than 20 years. She served as queen alongside her husband, Thutmose II, but after his death, she claimed the role of pharaoh while acting as regent to her step-son, Thutmose III. She reigned peaceably, building temples and monuments, resulting in the flourishing of Egypt. 

Under Hatshepsut’s reign, Egypt prospered. Unlike other rulers in her dynasty, she was more interested in ensuring economic prosperity and building and restoring monuments throughout Egypt and Nubia than in conquering new lands.

She built the temple Djeser-djeseru (“holiest of holy places”), which was dedicated to Amon and served as her funerary cult, and erected a pair of red granite obelisks at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, one of which still stands today. Hatshepsut also had one notable trading expedition to the land of Punt in the ninth year of her reign. The ships returned with gold, ivory, and myrrh trees, and the scene was immortalized on the walls of the temple.

After she died 1457BC, her monuments were attacked, statues dragged down, and her image defaced. 

Although she was given a befitting burial in the valley of the kings, her memories were not honored.

Powerful African Women in History
Hatshepsut

 Queen Amina: (1533-1610)

Within three months of inheriting the throne, Queen Amina embarked on what was to be the first in an ongoing series of military engagements associated with her rule. She stood in command of an immense military band and personally led the cavalry of Zazzau through an ongoing series of campaigns, waging battles continually throughout the course of her sovereignty. She spent the duration of her 34-year reign in military aggression. Although the military campaigns of Amina were characterized as efforts to ensure safe passage for Zazzau and other Hausa traders throughout the Saharan region, the practice proved effective in significantly expanding the limits of Zazzau territory to the largest boundaries before and since. African chronicler, P. J. M. McEwan quoted the Kano Chronicles, which stated that Amina, “conquered all the towns as far as Kwararafa [to the north] and Nupe [in the south].” According to all indications, she came to dominate much of the region known as Hausaland and beyond, throughout an area called Kasashen Bauchi, prior to the settlement of the so-called Gwandarawa Hausas of Kano in the mid-1600s. Kasashen Bauchi in modern terms comprises the middle belt of Nigeria. In addition to Zazzau, the city-states of central Hausaland included Rano, Kano, Daura, Gobir, and Katsina. At one time, Amina dominated the entire area, along with the associated trade routes connecting western Sudan with Egypt on the east and Mali in the north. In keeping with the custom of the times, she collected tributes of kola nuts and male slaves from her subject cities. Also, as was the custom of the Hausa people, Amina built walls around the encampments of the territories that she conquered. Some of the walls survived into modern times; thus her legacy remained entrenched in both the culture and landscape of her native Hausa city-states.

Some have suggested that a neighboring Hausa king, named Sarkin Kanajeji, held Amina at a serious disadvantage in waging a battle against his army because Kanajeji’s soldiers wore iron helmets for protection. Others, however, have credited Amina with the introduction of metal armor, including the iron helmets and chain mail. It has been further suggested that she was responsible for the introduction of the new armor to the Hausa city-state of Kano. Regardless of its origin, the innovation of protective armor arrived in Hausaland during the era of Amina. Because the Hausa of Zazzau were well skilled in the metalworking crafts, it is not unreasonable to infer that Amina’s army was well protected by body armor.

Some historians have credited Amina with originating the Hausa practice of building the military encampments behind fortress walls. A 15-kilometer wall surrounding the modern-day city of Zaria dates back to Amina and is known as ganuwar Amina (Amina’s wall). Additionally, a distinctive series of walls wind throughout the countryside in the vicinities of the ancient city-states of Hausaland. These came to be called Amina’s walls to the rest of the world, although not all of the walls were built during the reign of Amina.

Within three months of inheriting the throne, Queen Amina embarked on what was to be the first in an ongoing series of military engagements associated with her rule. She stood in command of an immense military band and personally led the cavalry of Zazzau through an ongoing series of campaigns, waging battles continually throughout the course of her sovereignty. She spent the duration of her 34-year reign in military aggression. Although the military campaigns of Amina were characterized as efforts to ensure safe passage for Zazzau and other Hausa traders throughout the Saharan region, the practice proved effective in significantly expanding the limits of Zazzau territory to the largest boundaries before and since. African chronicler, P. J. M. McEwan quoted the Kano Chronicles, which stated that Amina, “conquered all the towns as far as Kwararafa [to the north] and Nupe [in the south].” According to all indications, she came to dominate much of the region known as Hausaland and beyond, throughout an area called Kasashen Bauchi, prior to the settlement of the so-called Gwandarawa Hausas of Kano in the mid-1600s. Kasashen Bauchi in modern terms comprises the middle belt of Nigeria. In addition to Zazzau, the city-states of central Hausaland included Rano, Kano, Daura, Gobir, and Katsina. At one time, Amina dominated the entire area, along with the associated trade routes connecting western Sudan with Egypt on the east and Mali in the north. In keeping with the custom of the times, she collected tributes of kola nuts and male slaves from her subject cities. Also, as was the custom of the Hausa people, Amina built walls around the encampments of the territories that she conquered. Some of the walls survived into modern times; thus her legacy remained entrenched in both the culture and landscape of her native Hausa city-states.

Some have suggested that a neighboring Hausa king, named Sarkin Kanajeji, held Amina at a serious disadvantage in waging a battle against his army because Kanajeji’s soldiers wore iron helmets for protection. Others, however, have credited Amina with the introduction of metal armor, including the iron helmets and chain mail. It has been further suggested that she was responsible for the introduction of the new armor to the Hausa city-state of Kano. Regardless of its origin, the innovation of protective armor arrived in Hausaland during the era of Amina. Because the Hausa of Zazzau were well skilled in the metalworking crafts, it is not unreasonable to infer that Amina’s army was well protected by body armor.

Some historians have credited Amina with originating the Hausa practice of building the military encampments behind fortress walls. A 15-kilometer wall surrounding the modern-day city of Zaria dates back to Amina and is known as ganuwar Amina (Amina’s wall). Additionally, a distinctive series of walls wind throughout the countryside in the vicinities of the ancient city-states of Hausaland. These came to be called Amina’s walls to the rest of the world, although not all of the walls were built during the reign of Amina.

Powerful African Women in History
Queen Amina

Candace Amanirenas:

Amanirenas was a kandake (queen or “great woman”) of a nation called Kush. This kingdom was in the region that today is the African country Sudan. She was the second of eight kandakes who ruled Kush. Considering most ancient civilizations were ruled by kings, this made the nation unique.

The reign of Kandake Amanirenas lasted thirty years (40-10 B.C.E.). Experts believe she was born sometime between 60 and 50 B.C.E. She led Kush at a very important time when the nation was under threat from the Roman Empire. 

In 30 B.C.E., the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus conquered Egypt. That’s when he set his sights south to Kush. But Kandake Amanirenas was ready. In 24 B.C.E., she led 30,000 soldiers against the Roman forces in Egypt. She and her son, Prince Akinidad, fought among the soldiers and won a great victory.

As a result of this first battle, Kush took three Roman cities and many captives. The Kushite troops also defaced many monuments to Caesar Augustus throughout the cities. Amanirenas ordered the head removed from one bronze statue of Augustus. Upon return to her palace, she buried the head beneath the entrance as an insult to the emperor.

Rome launched a counterattack. It reclaimed its lost cities and invaded Kush. Kandake Amanirenas continued to fight. In one battle, she lost an eye. After healing, she returned to battle. Amanirenas also lost her son in the fight, which would become known as the Meroitic War (after Kush’s capital, Meroe).

Rome and Kush agreed to a peace treaty in 22 B.C.E. The agreement meant that the Kushites kept all of their territories. The Romans also took their army out of Egypt. Kush did not pay tribute or send any resources to Rome, unlike other nations along the empire’s border.

Amanirenas continued to rule until her death in 10 B.C.E. Her reign was followed by that of another kandake, Amanishakheto. Today, many kandakes of Kush are remembered as brave women who led their kingdom to great victories.

Powerful African Women in History
Amanirenas

Queen Nefertiti

Nefertiti was a queen of Egypt and wife of King Akhenaton, who played a prominent role in changing Egypt’s traditional polytheistic religion to one that was monotheistic, worshipping the sun god known as Aton. An elegant portrait bust of Nefertiti now in Berlin is perhaps one of the most well-known ancient sculptures.

Powerful African Women in History
Queen Nefertiti

Queen Nzingha(1583-1663)

Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande), the monarch of the Mbundu people, was a resilient leader who fought against the Portuguese and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa.

During the late 16th Century, the French and the English threatened the Portuguese near monopoly on the sources of slaves along the West African coast, forcing it to seek new areas for exploitation.  By 1580 they had already established a trading relationship with Afonso I in the nearby Kongo Kingdom. They then turned to Angola, south of the Kongo.

The Portuguese established a fort and settlement at Luanda in 1617, encroaching on Mbundu land.  In 1622 they invited Ngola (King) Mbande to attend a peace conference there to end the hostilities with the Mbundu.  Mbande sent his sister Nzinga to represent him in a meeting with Portuguese Governor Joao Corria de Sousa.  Nzinga was aware of her diplomatically awkward position. She knew of events in the Kongo which had led to Portuguese domination of the nominally independent nation.  She also recognized, however, that to refuse to trade with the Portuguese would remove a potential ally and the major source of guns for her own state.

In the first of a series of meetings, Nzinga sought to establish her equality with the representative of the Portugal crown.  Noting that the only chair in the room belonged to Governor Corria, she immediately motioned to one of her assistants who fell on her hands and knees and served as a chair for Nzinga for the rest of the meeting.

Despite that display, Nzinga made accommodations with the Portuguese.  She converted to Christianity and adopted the name, Dona Anna de Souza. She was baptized in honor of the governor’s wife who also became her godmother.  Shortly afterward Nzinga urged a reluctant Ngola Mbande to order the conversion of his people to Christianity.

In 1626 Nzinga became Queen of the Mbundu when her brother committed suicide in the face of rising Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions.  Nzinga, however, refused to allow them to control her nation.  In 1627, after forming alliances with former rival states, she led her army against the Portuguese, initiating a thirty-year war against them.  She exploited European rivalry by forging an alliance with the Dutch who had conquered Luanda in 1641. With their help, Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army in 1647. When the Dutch were in turn defeated by the Portuguese the following year and withdrew from Central Africa, Nzinga continued her struggle against the Portuguese.  Now in her 60s she still personally led troops in battle.   She also orchestrated guerilla attacks on the Portuguese which would continue long after her death and inspire the ultimately successful 20th Century armed resistance against the Portuguese that resulted in independent Angola in 1975.

Despite repeated attempts by the Portuguese and their allies to capture or kill Queen Nzinga, she died peacefully in her eighties on December 17, 1663.

Powerful African Women in History
Queen Nzinga

 

Queen Pokou(1730-1750)

Queen Pokou was the founder of the Baoule tribe in West Africa, now Ivory Coast. She ruled over a branch of the powerful Ashanti Empire as it expanded westward. A subgroup of the Akan people, the Baoule people are today one of the largest ethnic groups in modern Ivory Coast.

Queen Pokou

Idia

Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. She played a very significant role in the rise and reign of her son being described as a great warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son’s reign as the oba (king) of the Edo people. Queen Idia was instrumental in securing the title of oba for Esigie following the death of his father Oba Ozolua. To that end, she raised an army to fight off his brother Arhuaran, who was subsequently defeated in battle. Esigie thus became the 17th Oba of Benin. 

Esigie instituted the title of iyoba (queen mother) and conferred it on his mother, along with Eguae-Iyoba (Palace of the Queen Mother)

Queen Nandi:(1760s–1827)

Nandi, whose name means “a woman of high esteem,” was born into the Langeni tribe in the mid-18th century, in what is now South Africa. Around 1787, she had an illicit affair with Senzangakhona, the chief of the Zulu tribe, and gave birth to Shaka, who would later become one of the greatest Zulu chiefs and African military leaders. Although Senzangakhona then married her, Nandi was condemned as a disgrace by the Zulu and the Langeni, both because of her pregnancy and because she and her husband were considered too closely related to be married. Abuse at the hands of the Zulu forced Nandi and Shaka to return to her tribe, only to be cast out once more during the famine of 1802. They then found refuge with the Mthethwa (Mtetwa) people, whose chief Dingiswayo was in the process of creating a powerful military state. Shaka proved to be a fearless warrior and rose through the ranks of the Mthethwa army, being named by Dingiswayo as his successor before Dingiswayo’s assassination in 1817.

Senzangakhona died around 1815, and Shaka soon claimed the chieftainship of the Zulu by force. Nandi’s close relationship with her son, who never married, gave her unheard-of power. Reputed to have been bad-tempered even before her misfortunes, she was called Ndlorukazi, “The Great She Elephant,” and used her position to take revenge on her enemies. Under Shaka’s rule, the Zulu became a powerful, even legendary, military force, some 40,000 strong; his establishment of all-female regiments has been attributed to the example set for him by his warrior-mother.

Nandi died in 1827. Shaka ordered a time of public mourning during which no crops could be planted, all milk was to be poured out, and all pregnant women killed. He ordered his mother’s young handmaidens to be placed with her in the grave, and he set 12,000 soldiers to guard it for a year. Summary executions set off a massacre that claimed the lives of some 7,000 people in the course of a three-month period. The terror stopped when Mnkabayi, a close friend and sister-in-law of Nandi’s, plotted a successful coup carried out by Shaka’s half-brother Dingane (Dingaan), who assassinated Shaka and took over the chieftainship in 1828.

Queen Nandi

REFRENCES;

https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nandi-c-1760s-1827

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idia

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Pokou

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nefertiti

https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/Who-Was-the-One-Eyed-Queen-Who-Defeated-Caesar

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