By Paliani Chinguwo.
I now reminisce that were it not for my dire quest for profundity in ‘African studies’ as part of my extra-curricular knowledge, I would possibly have been very ignorant of the prowess, glory, splendor, greatness, charm, might and valiance which ever since the beginning of time, have been brilliantly displayed by some heroines of African descent whom I refer to as the ‘Mothers of the Mother Continent’.
Though it seems posterity has almost thrown them into oblivion, their names will never be erased from the pages of history. To quote one of the great sons of Africa Nelson Mandela, “a history of the people may be distorted but it can never be destroyed!”
One such great woman of African origin is Queen Amina of Azaria which is now a province in Nigeria. History testifies that this is the Queen who, in her 34th year of reign in the 15th Century A.D., expanded the domain of Azaria to its largest size ever. And she is mostly credited for popularizing the city wall fortification that has remained a distinct feature of any Hausa community up to date. She is also remembered as ‘Amina Ya Bakwa-ta San rana,’ which literally means ‘Amina daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.’
Then there is Candace Empress of ancient Ethiopia. One of the great military tacticians and field commanders the world has ever known who surprisingly managed to stop the ever conquering and victorious young Alexander the Great from invading Ethiopia right at the borders of her territory in the 4th century B.C.
And In the 17th Century A.D., there lived another African woman called Nzingha Queen of Matamba in South West Africa (Angola). She was a visionary military and political leader, competent and self-sacrificing who bravely waged wars against the slave hunting europeans for a period of over 30 years. In his letter to the Portuguese monarch in Lisbon, one of the Portuguese army generals wrote about her:
“She is the greatest military strategist that ever confronted the armed forces of Portugal. Her tactics keep our commanders sweating in confusion and dismay. Her aim is nothing less than total destruction of slave trade.”(Williams, 1986; 256).
The pages of history also testify that having realized with dismay that the Ashanti kings were generally filled with cowardice to militarily confront the British colonial administration in Gold Coast that had detained their king, Nana Prempeh I in 1896, five years later, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewa took up arms and led an Ashanti army in Gold Coast to fight the British troops in the last and most bloody battle of the 10 Anglo-Ashanti wars. She was later captured and banished into exile in Seychelles where she died in 1923. It is this war that entered the annals of history as the last war in Africa ever led by a woman.
In Southern Rhodesia now called Zimbabwe, there lived a great woman called Nehanda. When the British invaders otherwise known as the ‘Pioneer Column’ began to ferociously expropriate land and cattle from the Africans, Nehanda who is remembered as a ‘Great Mother Of Zimbabwe’ in collaboration with other leaders waged fierce battles against the British in the late 1890s, which the present African Zimbabweans refer to it as the ‘1st Chimurenga War of Land Liberation.’
In Malawi then known as Nyasaland, there was one remarkable woman in the struggle against colonialism who irked colonial powers. Her name was NaMlangeni the widow of Mputa the king who first led the Maseko Ngoni into Malawi during their migration from Zululand (South Africa). Immediately after the death of Gomani 1 in late 1896, the throne of the Maseko Ngoni was shared between Namlangeni who was also Gomani’s grandmother and his brother called Mandala. One European by the name of J.L. Nocoll described Namlangeni in the British Central Africa Gazette of 20th February 1894 as a woman of ‘great dignity of manners’.
Soon her dominance became a source of irritation to the British and Portuguese alike who were scrambling for her land. Besides, white settlers complained that she was rivaling Queen Victoria of England with regards to loyalty of the Ngoni people. In 1898 with her grandson Mandala, she mobilized armed forces to drive out the Portuguese. She was later overpowered, captured and whisked to Quelimane (Mozambique) where she was allegedly executed (Phiri, 1984).
Another great woman of African descent is the one called Sojourner Truth who was born as a slave in 1797 in USA. One day she left her home with only 25 cents in her pockets to launch a massive campaign against slavery. Though she was physically assorted and mudslinged for merely exposing the brunt of slavery, Sojourner Truth could not be swayed by an inch nor be stopped outright.
There was also another great woman called Harriet Tubman who was born in 1820 on one of the slave breeding plantations in USA. She first freed herself, then later her brothers and sisters who were also in the shackles of slavery and went on to establish a route called the ‘underground railroad’ through which she rescued many other Africans to find the road to freedom. It had to take the audacity of the angry slave owners to offer US$40,000 as a reward for Harriet’s capture. However, this did not materialize.
Another heroin of African descent is a woman called Lucy Parsons who was described by the Chicago Police as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” Born in Texas in 1853, probably as a slave, Lucy Parsons was an African Native and Mexican-American anarchist labor activist who fought against the injustices of poverty, racism, capitalism and the state in her entire life. After moving to Chicago with her husband, Albert Parsons, in 1873, she began organizing workers and led thousands of them out on strike protesting poor working conditions, long hours and abuses of capitalism.
In 1886 her husband, who had been heavily involved in campaigning for the eight hour day, was arrested, tried and executed on November 11, 1887, by the state of Illinois on charges that he had conspired in the Haymarket Riot, an event which marked the beginning of May Day labor rallies.
In 1905 she participated in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, and began editing the Liberator, an anarchist newspaper. Later, Lucy Parsons’s focus shifted somewhat to class struggles around poverty and unemployment. She died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire. After her death, police seized her library of over 1500 books and all of her personal papers.
Another woman is Madame C. Walker who was born in 1867. Albeit widowed at the age of 20, she strived through in the business spheres and became the first woman millionaire in the USA. By 1919 she had employed about 25,000 black women in her factories.
The list is just endless. Probably to a large extent because of the colour of their skin and to a certain extent because of their sex, there are many other great women or rather mothers of African descent who have unfairly been denied the utmost veneration and great honor they deserve.
Among these are: Queen Kahina of North Africa, Hatshepsut, Tiye and Nefertari, Nefertiti who were the Queens of the land whose inhabitants themselves called it ‘Kemet’ which literally means ‘Land of the Blacks’ otherwise known as ancient Egypt.
Nandi the mother of Shaka Zulu, Empress Taytu Betul, Ellen Craft, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B.Wells, Queen Mother Moore and Makeda the Queen Of Sheba whom history bears witness to have visited King Solomon in Jerusalem and later bore him a baby boy, Abna Hakim who became the first King of ancient Ethiopia arising from the King David’s lineage or Solomonic dynasty.
This article was first written in 2007. It first appeared in one of the dailies in Malawi called The Nation as a feature story.