Fearless African Queens Who Made A Mark In History

In honor of Women's Month, I have put together some information about fearless African Queen who had a profound impact in the shaping of our history. While English and European Queen a lauded the world over for their part in history, our African queens have been forgotten. Kids today know who Queen Elizabeth I is and Queen Victoria's statues, name and imagery still are still seen all over the continent. 

As Africa takes its place under the sun as a continent of thinkers, warriors and influencers, is important that we too go back and honor the women who's contributions to our liberation as a continent and our people in the colonies out of the continent, was forgotten. 

  • Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1840–October 17, 1921)Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother of the Edweso tribe of the Asante (Ashanti) in what is modern Ghana.  She was an exceptionally brave fighter who, in March 1900, raised and led an army of thousands against the British colonial forces in Ghana and their efforts to subjugate the Asante and seize the Golden Stool, the Asante nation’s spiritual symbol of unity and sovereignty.

Yaa Asantewaa mobilized the Asante troops and for three months laid siege to the British fort of Kumasi. The British colonizers had to bring in several thousand troops and artillery to break the siege, exiling Queen Yaa Asantewaa and 15 of her closest advisers to the Seychelles. She lived in exile until her death in October 1921. Yaa Asantewaa’s War, as it is presently known in Ghana, was one of the last major wars on the continent of Africa to be led by a woman.

  • Amanirenas (died c. 10 B.C.)

Amanirenas (also spelled Amanirena) was one of the greatest kandakes, or queen mothers, who ruled over the Meroitic Kingdom of Kush in northeast Africa. She reigned over the kingdom between c. 40 B.C.-10 B.C.  When Roman emperor Augustus levied a tax on the Kushites in 24 B.C., Amanirenas and her son, Akinidad,  led an army of 30,000 men to sack the Roman fort in the Egyptian city of Aswan.They also destroyed the statues of Caesar in Elephantine.

Under orders from Augustus, the Roman general Petronius retaliated, but met strong resistance from Amanirenas and her troops. After over three years of harsh fighting, the two parties agreed to negotiate a peace treaty. The Romans agreed to return their army to Egypt, withdraw their fort, give the land back to the Kushites and rescind the tax.

The brave warrior queen, Amanirenas is remembered for her loyal combat, side-by-side, with her own soldiers. She was blinded in one eye after she was wounded by a Roman. However, the full extent of the Roman humiliation has yet to be disclosed since the Kushite account of the war, written in the Meroïtic script, has not been fully decoded.

  • Queen Nzinga Mbande (c. 1583 – December 17, 1663)

Queen Nzinga Mbande was a highly intelligent and powerful 17th-century ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms (modern-day Angola). Around the turn of the 17th century, Nzinga fearlessly and cleverly fought for the freedom of her kingdoms against the Portuguese, who were colonizing  the Central African coast at the time to control the trade of African human beings.

To build up her kingdom’s military might, Nzinga offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers. She stirred up rebellion among the people still left in Ndongo, by then ruled by the Portuguese. Nzinga also formed an alliance with the Dutch against the Portuguese. 

However, their combined forces were not enough to drive the Portuguese out. After retreating to Matamba again, Nzinga started to focus on developing the kingdom as a trading power and the gateway to the Central African interior. 

At the time of Nzinga’s death in 1661 at the age of 81, Matamba had become a powerful kingdom that managed to resist Portuguese colonization attempts for an extended period of time. Her kingdom was only integrated into Angola in the late 19th century.

  • Queen Nandi, Ndlovukazi kaBhebe, of the eLangeni, Queen Mother of the Zulus (1760 – 1827)

 Queen Nandi bore Shaka, the illegitimate child of Zulu ruler Senzangakhona kaJama. Aware of her son’s lineage and despite the rejection from her tribe, she raised him according to the principles of royalty and protected him from his enemies..

Shaka was the Zulu empire builder and was frequently absent from the tribe off on military expeditions. Because Shaka never married  Nandi exercised full authority during his absence. 

She was also one of his most trusted advisers, she maintained this role until her death in 1827. 

When she died the nation and more importantly Shaka went into protracted mourning. Shaka Zulu himself said; “There have been two rulers in Zululand: One gentle, who excelled in her Kindness and generosity…… Such Duality has never been known in all history”. 

Her death had a profound effect on Shaka and he never recovered from her death. He went into a deep stage of mourning, depression and erratic behavior. Until he was assassinated by his two half brothers.

She was buried in October 1827 in a simple grave at Melmoth near KwaBulawayo, King Shaka's capital at the time. To this day, the South African culture honours her for having given life and nurtured one of Africa’s most legendary modern-day warriors and kings.

  • Queen Nanny (or simply Nanny) (c. 1685 – c. 1755)

Queen Nanny, a Jamaican national hero, was a well-known leader of the Jamaican Maroons in the 18th century. She was never a reigning Queen but was given the title as a term of endearment from her people. She was also called Grandy Nanny. 

Nanny was kidnapped from Ghana, West Africa, as a child, and was forced into slavery in Jamaica. Growing up, she was influenced by the Maroons and other leaders of the enslaved Africans. The Maroon people were enslaved Blacks who fled the oppressive plantations and formed their own communities in Jamaica’s interior.

Nanny and her brothers ran away from the plantation and hid in the Blue Mountains area. From there, they led several revolts across Jamaica. Queen Nanny was a well-respected, intelligent spiritual leader who was instrumental in organizing the plans to free enslaved Africans.

For over 30 years she freed more than 800 slaves and helped them settle into Maroon communities. She defeated the British in many battles and despite repeated attacks from the British soldiers, Grandy Nanny’s settlement, called Nanny Town, remained under Maroon control for several years.

  • Queen Mantatisi (ca. 1781–1836)
She was the daughter of Chief Mothaba of the Basia people in what later became the Harrismith district of the Free State province of South Africa, was reportedly a tall, attractive woman. She married Mokotjo, the chief of the neighboring Batlokwa, in a typical dynastic alliance, and is said to have borne him four sons. Mokotjo died while the heir, Sekonyela, was still too young to assume the chieftaincy, so Manthatisi acted as regent for Sekonyela.

After Mokotjo's death the Tlokwa faced military encroachments by the AmaHlubi people who were fleeing their homes in neighboring Natal. Made refugees themselves, Manthatisi commanded the Tlokwa into the Caledon Valley, driving out other Sotho communities living there. Her troops seized the crops and cattle of the people they attacked, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation.

Her reign of military conquest extended as far as central modern day Botswana. At the height of her military and political power her army was estimated to contain forty thousand fighters. However, she eventually suffered a series of defeats beginning in Bechuanaland in January 1823. Peter Becker describes the developments during this period when he states that:
 "Meanwhile Mmanthatisi was approaching with forty thousand men, women and children. It was January 1823, the time of the year crops were ripening and food was usually plentiful. But the Wild Cat People were compelled to live frugally, for so great had been the chaos brought about by lifaqane in general and the plundering of Mmanthatisi, Mpangazita and Matiwane in particular that entire tribes had vanished from their settlements even before they had tilled their fields in preparation for planting. 
Indeed, the Central Plateau swarmed with hunger-stricken stragglers and small, detached parties of bandits. Apart from roots, bulbs and berries, there was little food to be found in the veld, certainly not enough to feed so large a horde as that of Mmanthatisi."
Nonetheless, the most prosperous of the Bechuana chiefs, Makaba of the Bangwaketsi, made a firm decision not to surrender to Mmanthatisi without a struggle. The same above-mentioned author, Peter Becker, continues by saying that:
 "Meanwhile, the old Chief had decided not to surrender to Mmanthatisi without a fight. He called up every available warrior, garrisoned every pass leading to his capital, and with the guile for which he was famous, prepared traps into which he planned to lead his aggressors.
"Since her flight from the Harrismith District Mmanthatisi had managed to brush aside all opposition in the territories she traversed, but now in the stifling bushveld of Bechuanaland she was to come face to face with a foe whose fighting forces were as numerous as, and also better fed than, those of the Wild Cat People.
The vanguard of Mmanthatisi's army strode into ambuscades; large groups of men topped headlong into concealed pitfalls and met their death beneath volleys of barbed javelins. A battle broke out, in the course of which hundreds of the invaders were massacred. 
Before the situation could develop into a rout Mmanthatisi suddenly disengaged her armies and retreated with her hordes to the east. Thus Makaba became the first Sotho chief to repulse the formidable Wild Cat Army, and to this day he is spoken of as the 'Man of Conquest.'"

Because Of Manthatisi’s notoriety, all Sotho-Tswana raiders became known as “boo-Mmanthatisi”, or Mantatee Horde” by the English. Known also as the “Destroyer of Nations”, she was only stopped from entering the Cape Colony by British Forces near Aliwal North. Eventually Manthatisi settled her people on the Marabeng Mountains. 

Although portrayed as an evil woman by some contemporary Europeans, she was a strong, capable and popular leader, both in war and peace. Her popularity is clearly indicated by the fact that instead of her people being known as Tlokwa, they became known as ‘ Manthatisi’. Unlike other chiefs who fell victim to the Difaqane wars, she successfully kept her people together in the midst of frequent raids by Nguni groups to the south.

This is just a little in formation I have compacted into this article. You can read more about these women and many more like them. 

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