Women have struggled for decades to establish their place in a men-dominated society as equals. Over time we are seeing barriers coming down as women slowly but surely take on leadership positions. However, there is still lots of work to be done. However, looking at the heroic roles of African women in history, it is hard to explain how they fell from glory. Many years ago, women were leaders and not mere followers looking for a voice. Today, we will look at 10 African warrior queens and their heroics.
10 of the Brave and Unforgettable African Warrior Queens
#1: Queen Amina of Zaria
Queen Amina of Zaria is one of the greatest African warrior queens to date. She was the daughter of King Nikatau and Queen Bakwa Turunku. Born in 1533, Queen Amina was a warrior queen of Zazzua—which is today’s Zaria City in Nigeria’s Kaduna State. She was exposed to military and political affairs by her grandfather. In 1576, she succeeded the throne, and Zaria became one of the largest of the seven Hausa states.
Within a few months of her ascension to the throne, she embarked on a series of military engagements. She led a big military band, fighting battles continually throughout her tenure. According to Kano chronicles,
“Amina conquered all towns as far as Kwararafa (to the North) and Nupe (to the South)”.
She was the brain behind the innovation of protective amours among the military in Hausa land. Also, she was fond of taking a lover in every town she went through. Those lovers did not live to tell the tale—they were beheaded the very next day after spending the night with the queen.
She is credited for constructing the distinctive and fortified ancient city walls known as ganuwar Amina or “Amina Walls” in her area. Many of these constructions are still standing to this day.
Apart from her conquest, her contribution to trade and commerce in her state are immense. This African queen is the creator of trade routes throughout Northern Africa. Queen Amina died in 1610. However, she remains a prominent figure in the history of Zaria.
#2: Queen Moremi of Ile-Ife
Queen Moremi Ajasoro was born in Offa, a town in southwestern Nigeria. She was famous for her bravery and tactfulness that delivered the people of Ile-Ife from slavery. She was married to Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa. In the 12th century, the people of Ile-Ife were invaded and oppressed by a certain tribe known as “people of the forest” (Igbo people). To save her people, she pledged to the river spirit called “Esimirin” to sacrifice anything demanded of her if she could discover her oppressors’ secret.
Queen Moremi disguised and was taken captive by their oppressors. She eventually got married to the leader of the group due to her beauty and tactfulness. Through this position, she discovered her invaders’ secret, and her people were freed. She returned to her people and to the river spirit to fulfill her pledge. Unfortunately, the spirit demanded for Moremi’s only son, Olurogbo. She kept her vow and sacrificed her only son. This sacrifice grieved the entire people of Ile –Ife.
To date, the people of Ile- Ife regard themselves as the “eternal children” of Queen Moremi. They also celebrate the Edi festival in honor of her selfless act. The statue of Moremi, known as the “Queen Moremi Statue of Liberty,” is the fourth tallest statue in Africa and the tallest in Nigeria.
#3: Makeda, Queen of Sheba
Queen Makeda of Sheba was the first African queen and a female Monarch mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. She was a woman of wealth and power. Her most remarkable impact was defeating the serpent King Awre. The serpent king troubled the Northern Ethiopia Kingdom of Axum at that time.
She was renowned for her intelligence and cleverness which was backed by her visit to King Solomon’s palace in Jerusalem. It is essential to know that historians believe she had a son for King Solomon, whose name was Menelik. Subsequently, Menelik became Ethiopia’s first imperial ruler.
#4: Queen Nefertiti of Egypt
Queen Neferneferuaten Nefertiti was born in 1370. She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful name. The name Nefertiti means “the beautiful woman has come.” She was the royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, the 18th Dynasty King of Ancient Egypt. However, she and her husband were famous for championing the religious revolution. She took an active role in the worship of Aten—a sun god. Queen Nefertiti supported her husband, and many Scholars believed he promoted her from Great Royal wife to co-regent.
Some feel her time in power was one of relative stability although much effort was made by successors to erase that legacy. However, at the excavation site of Hermopolis, there is an image found of her on blocks where she is cast in the role of a classic male conqueror. In the image, the African warrior queen is striking her enemies with mace while grabbing them by the hair.
The disappearance of Nefertiti despite her prominence is still a subject of speculation among scholars. Some scholars believe she died while others think she was exiled after the death of her husband. To date, she is known for her painted sandstone bust. Also, she features in many archaeological sites like the King Riding Chariot.
#5: Queen Cleopatra of Egypt
Queen Cleopatra VII Theo Philopator was born in early 69 BC and was the daughter of Ptolemy. The African Queen was a product of incest, a common practice among the Ptolemaic dynasty members. Queen Cleopatra was not from Egypt but was born in Egypt. Subsequently, she ruled as a lawgiver in Egypt and other territories like Cyprus. She was proactive in religious activities, being the chief religious authority in her realm.
She married her adolescent brothers, who served as her ceremonial spouses during her tenure. Also, she had love affairs with several men for political reasons. This includes Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. Queen Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were more than just political lovers. Historians claim both of them shared beautiful moments as love birds.
Furthermore, Queen Cleopatra was also involved in her kingdom’s administrative affairs, solving economic problems during her time. She was a powerful and possessive leader, always protective of her position. Queen Cleopatra killed her sibling when she found out he was a threat to her position. She died in 30 BC. Today, Queen Cleopatra features in several ancient works of Art in Egyptian and Roman styles.
#6: Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar
Queen Ranavalona ruled Madagascar for 33 years. She was of Merina’s descent on the island. Queen Ranavalona was a commoner but adopted into a royal family. Her adoption was a reward for her father’s courageous act of exposing the murder plot against the Merina King, Adianampoinimenia. Subsequently, she married the King’s son, Radama. Queen Ranavalona was the first out of the twelve wives of Radama, but had no child for him. She later had a love affair with another man and gave birth to a child named Rakoto.
After the demise of her husband, she ascended the throne by killing every potential regent. She was a fierce and brutal leader with a horrible reputation. During her tenure, there was no freedom of worship for Christians. Many of them had to flee, and those that could not were brutally killed.
Before her ascension to the throne, the Europeans had access to Madagascar. However, as soon as she succeeded the throne, she reformed the society back to its traditional structure. She was resistant to the European forces and movement. She was cruel towards every opposing subject under her rule. One of her common forms of punishment is “tanguin“—a form of punishment in which offenders were given tangena to eat. Tangena is a poisonous nut that makes one vomit.
Despite her tyrannical rule, she kept Madagascar from becoming a miniature England and made Madagascar an independent state. Also, Queen Ranavalona was a patriotic and tactical leader in the history of Madagascar.
#7: Queen Nandi of Zulu
Queen Nandi was born in 1760 in Melmoth, South Africa, and she was Shaka Zulu’s mother—one of the Zulu Kings in South Africa. She was a figure of strength to the kingdom of Zulu. According to historians, she gave birth out of wedlock, which made her suffer a great deal of insult and humiliation at other women’s hands.
However, she was strong and resilient. She determined in her heart that her son, Shaka, would be one of the greatest kings. There were times when she could not cater to herself and her son, especially during the 1802 food shortage, which was referred to as “Madlathule,” meaning “Eat and be quiet”. Queen Nandi had to travel a long distance on foot to seek help to provide for her son.
Through her determination, Shaka became a great king. Queen Nandi’s steadfastness had a positive influence on the kingdom. She inculcated and instilled great values in her son, and it was evident in the way Shaka treated his subjects, especially women. Also, she supported her son tirelessly, resulting in many exploits and border extensions during her son’s tenure. Although she died in 1827, her work lives on.
#8: Queen Muhumuza of Rwanda
Queen Muhumuza was married to a Rwandan King, Kigeli IV, and she was one of the famous African warrior queens. After the demise of her husband, she rebelled against Rwandan colonial powers and moved to Uganda. Also, she was a woman of extraordinary character and spiritual powers. She became seen as the spiritual leader of the Nyabinghi cult which was centered around Queen Nyabinghi—another very influential African queen. Some of her followers believe Queen Muhumuza is the reincarnation of Queen Nyabinghi.
However, she is most famous for her political movement and social activism. She waged war against the three colonial powers in the region; the Germans, the British, and the Belgians from the neighboring Congo. She fought fearlessly for human rights, resisting many norms that could limit the right of women. The Nyabinghi cult was one centered around resistance and was seen as the religion of those being oppressed. Queen Muhumuza’s bravery earned her the name Rutatiina-Mireego which means “one who never fears bows and arrows”. She died in 1945, but her spirit lives on through the Rastafarian movement.
#9: Queen Yaa Asantewa of Ashanti
Queen Yaa Asantewa was born in 1840. She was the queen mother of Ejisu in Ashanti Empire, now part of modern-day Ghana. Her most remarkable contribution was in the war (war of the golden stool) against British colonialism. The British sent some of the Asante Kings to exile and looted their lands. Furthermore, the British Governor-General requested the “golden stool” of the Asante people. The golden stool was a symbol of the Asante kingdom. This provoked Yaa Asantewaa, and she courageously led the war and fought for her land.
She was an intellectual politician and a political activist. Queen Yaa Asantewa died in 1921. However, she remains a figure of bravery in the history of the Asanti kingdom. To honor her, Yaa Asantewa Girls’ Secondary School was founded in Kumasi to encourage more female leaders in Ghana.
#10: Kandake, Empress of Ethiopia
“Kandake” meaning “great woman,” was used as a dynastic name for the Queens of Moreo, the capital of Kush (Ethiopia). Many African female warriors ruled Ethiopia. Some ruled with their husbands while others ruled in their own right. Historians claim women mainly ruled Moreo. Among them was a Candace that ruled in 332 BC. The Candace of 332 BC was a brave and formidable leader. She set a standard of excellence in the class of female warriors.
Her bravery was evident in the way she prevented Alexander the Great from entering Kush. Alexander had to retreat to Egypt. Another credible story is that of Kandake Amanirenas of 22 BC. She was a fearless warrior in the history of Ethiopia. Also, she waged war against the Roman forces, but Gaius Petronius defeated her. Despite the defeat, her bravery won the Kushites peace treaty with Rome that lasted for three years in 22 BC.
It is hard to tell how the tide turned to where we are today. Perhaps, the degradation of feminine strength is one of Africa’s colonial inheritances. Many centuries are behind us and a new generation has come. However, the heroic acts of these African warrior queens will continue to stay in our hearts. Hopefully, many young African girls will read their stories and find inspiration to strive for greatness.