View clip, Monumental Women, excerpt
from Women's Power dvd
















































































































































































Women’s Power

(transcript from the DVD by Max Dashu. [Additional notes appear in brackets].)

Note: To access the Extras on Women's Power dvd, let Part I or II play all the way to the end of the black screen; a menu screen will appear, and the Extras can be accessed from it using the up/down buttons or the forward button, depending on dvd player.


Around the world, submerged female histories have resurfaced in the archaeological record. Among them are ancient stone sculptures commemorating women, like the female monuments in Ethiopia. [Undated, but very old. Heads have been lopped off of some of the statues.]

Aveyron megalith
Similar monoliths with heavy necklaces, female breasts, and hands to the center were raised in ancient France. This one, known as the Lady of St. Sernin, is over 5000 years old. Others are found in the Paris basin and northeast.
[Many scholars think the lines on her cheeks are facial tattoos. In the Gard region of northeastern France, similar necklaced and breasted figures are carved into the walls of funerary hypogea (rock-cut underground chambers).]

Guernsey megalith
Ancient megalithic statues of ancestral women also show up in Portugal, Corsica, the Italian Tyrol, and here, Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Female ancestor monuments stretch across the central Asian steppes from Ukraine to Mongolia. [Some have even turned up in Korea, Japan, and Bulgaria.]

13th century Golden Ordos bülbül
Turkic people call them bülbül, or grandmothers. Many hold a chalice over their wombs.

Larger than life women were sculptured on the Pasemah plateau of southwestern Sumatra. Some hold children, others ride on water buffaloes, emblem of the matrilineages in nearby Minangkabau. [Other female monuments were raised at the far eastern end of Indonesia, in Sulawesi.]

San Agustin
Monumental clan mothers stand before the stone slab temples of the San Agustín culture in Colombia.

La Chaquira
A guardian figure sculptured into a high mountain rock is known to Colombians as La Chaquira.

In southern Appalachia, women are abundantly represented in the art of the ancestral mound temples [and judging from museum displays, in Tennessee they are in the majority.] But these stone statues don’t appear in American history textbooks.

Huastec statue
The Huastec people of eastern Mexico also created magnificent stone sculptures of women wearing ceremonial headdresses. [There are a considerable number of these, not only in Veracruz and Mexico City museums, but in the Museum of the American Indian, the British Museum, and elsewhere.]

Costa Rica

Volcanic rock carvings in Costa Rica show sturdy and self-possessed women. Some hold their breasts in a ritual gesture of nurturing power. [Other, more monolithic pillar women have been found in Nicaragua.]


This Kemetic queen comes from the temple at Giza, near the great pyramid. Ancient Egyptian women had full property rights and acted as priestesses, traders, weavers, supervisors, and occasionally scribes.


This head is known as the Lady of Warka, or Uruk, city of the goddess Inanna. She was praised as “queen, great scribe, heroic princess.” This image may represent one of her priestesses. Sumerian records occasionally name female founders of dynasties, like Kug-Bau, “the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish.”


Some 24 centuries ago in Spain, the most impressive and numerous sculptures are of Iberian women. No one knows whether they represent priestesses, goddesses, or female ancestors. This little-known masterpiece is the Lady of Elche.

Dama de Baza

And here, seated in a winged throne, is the Lady of Baza. Many of these richly arrayed Iberian women hold libation vessels. [These fine limestone statues look like priestesses in ritual dress.]



Lawgivers and Originators [scrolling block]

Everything begins with the cultural founders:

Isis, Kybele, and Demeter were said to have taught law, culture, farming, and other technologies.

Nü Gua taught the Chinese how to irrigate with dams and canals, and also invented marriage and the whistle.

In Australia, Ngalyod is remembered as a mother, teacher, and culture-giver.

The Yoruba of Nigeria called Yemaya “our mother, the lawgiver.”

In the Philippines, Lubluban gave the first laws on ritual, property and inheritance.

The Shawnee received their laws and ceremonies and the use of fire from the creatrix Kokomtheyna.

Ptesan Wiñ, White Buffalo Calf Woman, gave the Lakota the sacred pipe and the seven ceremonies

and Estsanatlehi, Changing Woman, instructed the Dineh or Navajo.

The goddess Tökisy organized Toda clans in south India, giving them their names, ceremonies, and deities.

Two ancient women shamans of Yunnan, Mili Jide and Mupu Shaode taught the Jinuo to gather and hunt, farm and herd. [They invented stone knives, weaving, and irrigation.]

In Colombia, Dabeiba taught weaving, basketmaking, ceramics and farming to the Catío people

… and the Chibcha credit Bachué with teaching them their way of life.

Mama Huaco

In Peru, the Inca kings had female counterparts, the Coyas, who were moon priestesses. The first Coya was Mama Huaco, the “holy mother.” After the Spanish conquest, a Peruvian historian wrote of her, “She was a witch, but helped the poor.”

Sinú: four-women vessel from Betancí

In northern Colombia, the Spanish were astonished to find the country of Finzenú ruled by a great female chieftain, one of a long line.

Sinú frog-woman
The skillful Zenú goldsmiths created many female icons adorned with frogs and furnished rich temples to the goddess Dabeiba.


Anacaona was the chieftain of Xaragua, the last unconquered part of Haiti. Bartolomé de las Casas described the Taina chieftain as a “graceful woman, prudent, creative and authoritative.” But in 1503 the Spanish governor betrayed her hospitality, slaughtered her assembly of chiefs with sword and fire, then captured and executed her. [Anacaona was also a poet who composed areitos, a style of ballad-dance popular among the Tainos. The only surviving areitos are hers.]

Nanyehi (modern)

The Ghigau or Beloved Woman was head of the Cherokee Women’s Council and a member of the council of chiefs. This modern painting shows Nanyehi—Nancy Ward to the English—who became Ghigau in 1755, after courageously turning the tide of a battle.

Nanyehi 18th century drawing
As European settlers overran Cherokee lands, their male leaders were amazed that Nanyehi spoke at treaty negotiations, calling for peace and urging, “Let your women hear our words.” But settler culture denied women a voice in political decisions, unlike the Creeks and Cherokees.

Trail of Tears: Expulsion of the southeastern Indian nations

The Ghigau constantly urged her people not to sell their land, but in 1838 the US seized the Cherokee country and forced out most of its people, to walk the Trail of Tears.

Dual-gender chieftaincies

The Shawnee, Miami, and Illinois had parallel systems of female and male chiefs. Women had the authority to demand an end to wars. [Female chiefs directed communal crop-planting and preparations for feasts and ceremonies.] Dual-gendered leadership is also known in some parts of  Africa.

Tsagáglalal was a great woman chief in Wishram history. Coyote said the world was changing, and women would no longer be chiefs. But he put an image of Tsagáglalal on a rock along the Columbia river to watch over the people.

"Kwakiutl Chieftainess"

But these Indian histories have rarely been treated seriously. Often all we have to go on are irregular fragments like this one, without even a name. Her regalia suggests that this woman chief’s leadership was spiritual as well as political.


This was true of the legendary Czech seeress Libushe, who governed with her two sisters, a healer and diviner.

Until the men demanded to have a duke like other nations: Libushe agreed, but predicted war and taxation would result. Her successors are said to have fought an amazon war

against this new order. Czechs remember Libushe as the founder of Prague whose historical prophecies came true.

British head
Celtic tradition remembers some tough women warriors, and indomitable queens like Medb Lethderg, of whom it was said that she would allow no man to be king in Ireland without having herself as queen – a probable reference to an ancient Irishmatrilineage. [Shown: ancient stone head from Britain]

Fu Hao
These bronze glyphs belonged to Fu Hao, a royal consort who was also an important general and ritual leader, 3200 years ago. Her grave is the richest royal tomb [surviving] from the Shang dynasty [with many hundreds of rare neolithic jades, bronzes, and other wealth. Sixteen slaves lost their lives to her burial.]

Ahmose Nefertari
The Kemetic women of the 18th dynasty wielded considerable power, starting with Ahhotep I who drove out the foreign occupiers, and her daughter Ahmose Nefertari, shown here.

Hatshepsut portrait

Then there’s Hatshepsut, the most stunning exception to the rule of male pharaohs. She put on the masculine trappings of rulership:

Hatshepsut sphinx

the nemes headdress, kilt, even the braided false beard of the pharoahs.

Hatshepsut in granite

Hatshepsut held the throne for over 20 years, building magnificent temples and sending a famous naval expedition to trade with Somalia. Two other women ruled as pharaohs in their own right: Sobekneferu and Twosret.

Kandake Amanitore
In the Sudanese states of Napata and Meroë, the queens retained great authority, especially as high priestesses. Napatan inscriptions emphasize a female succession line, unto the seventh generation. This is kadake Amanitore…

And this is Amanishaketo. In 24 BCE, the Meroitic queen Amanirenas fought with valor against the Roman legions and lost an eye in defending her country’s independence. [Romans adopted the queenly title Kadaki as the name Candace (pronounced Kandaki). Look it up.]

Portrait from Ilé Ifè

This masterpiece from Ilé-Ifè portrays a Yoruba queen. The power of West African queens is legendary, from the Asantehemaa in Ghana to the Hausa warrior queen Amina, who ruled northern Nigeria from 1576 to 1610.

Yoruba Queen Mother: palace caryatid

African Queen Mothers often had their own officers, warriors, and courts. Some ruled in their own right; others, like this Yoruba queen mother, exerted power behind the throne, often nominating or choosing who would be king, and sometimes deposing him or overruling his judgments.


In Angola, the sacred throne of the BaChokwe literally rests on their ancestral mothers. Around 1600, tradition says, a Lunda chief appointed his daughter Lweji as ruler, passing over her brothers, who had quarreled over which of them would be chief.

De-throne throne

The brothers tried to overthrow Lweji, as shown in this sculptured throne, but failed. So they left for Angola, to found the BaChokwe nation.


Certain Lunda titles—First Female Pillar, First Courageous Woman— show that men took over high offices once held by women. Some ancestral Pwo masks represent female chiefs, common in south-central Africa.

Abla Pokou

The Baulé nation reveres a female founder: the Ashanti princess Abla Pokou, who led her people fleeing across the river from Ghana into Ivory Coast. In this modern sculpture she sits on the sacred stool of the Akan.

Bidjogo mural

In Guinée Bissau, wrote Amilcar Cabral: "… there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element.  On the Bijagos Islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens.  The religious leaders were women too..." (from Cabral, Return to the Source, Selected Speeches, 1973. Guinee-Bissau)


Japan first enters written history in Chinese accounts of Wa, the Land of Queens. Women had both religious and political authority. Around the year 200, the people turned to the old female shaman Himiko to bring warring factions to order.

Thai queen

Thai oral histories also ascribe shamanic powers to a queen who used a sacred drum to defend her country against an invading king. In Burma, too,

the Mon queen Camadevi, shown here, fought an aggressive suitor through the magic power of her sarong. Queens and female traders were great temple builders in Siam and Burma.
[Shown: the Wat Phra That Haripunchai temple, 11th century, was built over the site of Camadevi’s palace in northern Thailand.]

Sondok [near-contemporary golden queen's crown]

Sondok was a great queen of the Korean state of Silla, 632-47 CE, ruling in the absence of male heirs, and followed by two other queens. [Shown, a queen’s crown from the rival state of Paekche]

Sondok’s observatory

She built many Buddhist temples and this Tower of the Moon and Stars in Kyongju, which has been called the first astronomical observatory in east Asia.

Mamluk sultana: a medieval gateway in Cairo

Over history, women often had to overcome great difficulty to reach such power. A thousand years ago in Cairo, a Sudanese captive rose from slavery in the caliph’s harem to rulership…

Mamluk mosque

… by organizing the enslaved black troops of the imperial army into a political force. Historians did not record her name, but her son became the caliph al-Mustansir. [Mamluk period, Egypt]

Wu Zetian, 625-705
Wu Ze Tian took the classic path to power for women in patriarchy: bonding to a powerful man.  started as a young concubine of the fifth rank in the imperial harem. When the emperor died, she became regent for her sons.

Wu 2

When they died, Wu became the only woman in Chinese history to take the title of emperor and rule in her own right. The Confucians resisted, insisting that a woman should never rule, but Empress Wu prevailed, partly because of her popular tax reforms, but also because of her strategic skill. She ruled for 40 years.

Khmer temple relief, probably the goddess Uma

Social conditions were quite different in southeast Asia, where female chieftains, clan heads, warriors and shamans were unremarkable. Chinese travelers were amazed to find female judges, officials and scribes among the Khmer in Cambodia. 

Nü Ren Guo

In Vietnam, too, the Chinese were struck by women’s freedom, so much that this artist wrote Nü  Ren Guo—Country of Women—above these women drummers. And not because there were no men in Vietnam! [While some Chinese accounts of Countries of Women are clearly fantastic, others like the example below deal with historical societies.]

Nü Wang

Chinese sources place Countries of Women in the eastern and western regions of Tibet.  In 586 CE, Sui dynasty accounts describe a Nü Wang [“women’s realm”] in eastern Tibet; later Chinese records say women ruled this country until the election of a man in 742.


European colonizers were similarly shocked to find that American Indian women were not chattel, but potent economic, cultural and political forces, including female chieftains, elders, shamans, and providers. Here Aliquippiso or Aliquippa of the Iroquois League meets with Lt. George Washington.

Seneca family, Ontario

Iroquois men reprimanded male settlers for disdaining female power: "Brothers! Our ancestors considered it great offense to reject the counsels of their women, particularly of the Female Governesses. They were esteemed the mistresses of the soil.”  [“Good Peter,” a member of the Iroquois League, speaking to Clinton, the colonial governor of New York.]


The Cherokee Attakullakulla, uncle to the Beloved Woman Nanyehi, distrusted the all-male envoys of colonial America,

Attakullakulla 2

demanding of them, “Where are your women?” The participation of women in diplomacy guaranteed peaceful intentions, while their absence was a bad sign—as events bore out.

Archaic Greek pot with Libyan influences

Political office is only one of many female spheres of power. Now we turn to the mother-right cultures, where the authority of clan mothers and women elders is embedded in the social fabric.


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