African Warrior Women

According to Greek accounts, the earliest Amazons came from Libya (then a name for most of North Africa). They wore red leather and carried crescent-shaped shields. It was these Libyan Amazons, they said, who later founded cities and temples in the Aegean and Anatolia.

At a much later period, the Amazons of Dahomey were crack all-female troops, all female, who also served as royal bodyguards. They were also priestesses and wore crescent moon crowns.

The Hausa had a number of warrior queens, notably Amina of Zau Zau. A woman named Bazao-Turunku led warriors and founded a town south of Zaria.

Nupe women warriors called Isadshi-Koseshi fought as fiercely as the men, opposing invasions of the Fulbe conquerers who raided the Nupe for cattles and slaves, especially women.


Click arrow to view "African Queens,"
excerpt from Women's Power dvd by Max Dashú



Nyabinghi, the "hidden queen" fought to free Africans from English slavery and rule. Also called Queen Muhmusa or Tahtahme, she inspired the Nyabinghi underpinnings of Rastafarianism.

Nanny of the Maroons was born in Ghana, and folk history says that she came to Jamaica with the express purpose of becoming a high priestess and leader of her people, never having been a slave. She was an obeah-woman who led the eastern Maroons based in Moreton, and forged an alliance with another group led by Cudjoe. (The name Maroons comes from the Spanish cimarron,meaning "gone back to the wild.")

The Jamaican Maroons were the first people to force the English to sign a treaty with their subjects, on March 1, 1738. The lands conceded in this treaty formed a base for the Maroon's independent survival. One of these communities was named Nannytown after the female Ghanaian leader. Maroon country was so feared by the English that it became known as the "Land of Look-Behind."

(Queen Nanny is discussed in the Rebel Shamans presentation.)



In the summer of 1848, eight or ten people made it across the Ohio river in their northward flight from slavery. The slave catchers tracked them into town, but the bounty they were after turned out to be elusive:

"The women began to gather from adjoining houses until the Amazons were about equal to the [slave-hunters]-- the former with shovels, tongs, washboards and rolling pins; the latter with revolvers, sword-canes and bowie-knives. Finally the beseigers decamped, leaving the Amazons in possession of the field, amid the jeers and loud huzzahs of the crowd."

--Report from The North Star, an African-American paper out of Cincinnati, August 11, 1848. (For more, see Dorothy Sterling's book Speak Out In Thunder Tones.)



"If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon you my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight until the last of us falls in the battlefield."

---Ya Asantewa, an Ashanti queen who led the resistence to British colonial rule in Ghana. She succeeded in the short run, but the Ashanti were heavily outgunned.



The Aba rebellion in southeastern Nigeria grew out of a traditional female rite of the Igbo. People were outraged at the colonial government's plan to tax women, "the trees that bear fruit." In protest, Ibo women bound their heads with ferns, painted their faces with ash, put on loincloths and carried sacred sticks with palm frond wreaths. Thousands marched on the District Office, dancing, singing protests, and demanding the cap of office of the colonial chief Okugo. When he approached one woman to count her goats and sheep, she had retorted, "Was mother counted?"

This protest spread into a vast regional insurrection. The Ibo women's councils mobilized demonstrations in three provinces, turning out over 2,000,000 protesters. The British District Officer at Bende wrote, "The trouble spread in the 2nd week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay's Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners."

Elsewhere women protestors burned down the hated British "Native Courts" and cut telegraph wires, throwing officials into panic. The colonials fired on the female protesters, killing more than fifty and wounding more. Marches continued sporadically into 1930. These mass actions became known as the Aba Rebellion of 1929, or The War of the Women. It was one of the most significant anti-colonial revolts in Africa of that day.

Diola women led similar protests against French attempts to exact a tribute from their rice harvest in Senegal, an event dramatized by filmmaker Ousmane Sembene.


If you want to know who I am
I am daughter of Angola, of Kêto and Nagô
I don't fear blows because I am a warrior
Inside of samba I was born
I raised myself, I transformed myself, and
no one will lower my banner, O, O, O.
I am a warrior woman daughter of Ogun and Yansâ

---Song from an album by Brazilian singer Clara Nuñes


Rain Queens of the Lovedu

Dzugudini, a grand-daughter of "the famous ruler Monomatapa," was the founding Rain Queen of the Lovedu. Her royal father was angry that she bore a child out of wedlock. Oral tradition says her mother taught her the art of rain-making and gave her rain charms and sacred beads. Then she fled south with some supporters. They settled peacefully among the Sotho. In the early 1800s, a leadership crisis was resolved by accession of the first Mujaji, a Rain Queen with both political and ceremonial power. Chiefs presented her with wives. She had no military, but even the Zulu king Shaka paid her tribute because of her rain power. Her successors have less authority, but still preside over womanhood initiations and other important rituals.



The queen is called by honorific titles such as "Mother of the Country" and Indlovukati, "Lady Elephant." She is a powerful rain maker, guardian of the royal clan's sacred objects, and addresses the ancestors on behalf of the Swazi nation. She has the power to give sanctuary to persons condemned by the king's court. Her village is the capital of the country, where troops are quartered.



Many powerful queens are remembered in Hausa tradition. Among the Kotoko, the Gumsu was the female heir of the land, associated with the morning star, mother of all stars. She lived in the southern part of the palace and performed functions associated with the south, was the head of the country's women and played a leading part in the seven year rites for its welfare. The Kotoko government was based on a delicate balance of male/female, right/left, north/south. Among the Kanuri, the Gumsu retained her authority in Muslim times. Diwan records recount that the Gumsu Fasama became angry at her son, Sultan Biri ibn Dunama, for executing a thief, rather than cutting off his hands as the Koran decreed. "Accordingly his mother put Biri in prison, and he submitted to the punishment for a whole year.

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