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Perhaps nowhere in history were women held in higher standing and regard than in Mama Africa, the birthplace of humanity and the world’s first great civilizations, with its preponderance of matriarchal and matrilineal societies.
“You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element,” writes Amilcar Cabral, the Guinean leader of the African Liberation Movement, in Return to the Source. “They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens. The religious leaders were women, too.”
Probably the most famous woman in African history is Queen Nzinga Mbande, Amazon Queen of the N’dongo and Matamba in West Africa, who ruled Angola for thirty-some years in the mid-1600′s. In 1621 at the age of thirty-nine, she negotiated with the Portuguese for the preservation of Angolan independence while seated on the back of a kneeling servant, an ingenious and face-saving performance, as the colonialists had not provided a chair for her in an attempt to embarrass and humiliate her.
Years later, Nzinga refused to hand back runaway slaves to the Portuguese, thus bringing down their colonial wrath. Along with her female officers and advisors, Nzinga formed formidable tribal alliances and gathered a vast army that, in true guerrilla fashion, harassed the Portuguese to exhaustion from all sides while avoiding direct confrontation. Politically astute, she formed alliances with other foreign powers, pitting them against one another to free Angola of European influence.
I may be kindly. I am ordinarily gentle, but in my line of business I am obliged to will terribly what I will at all.
- Catherine II. Russian Queen, 1729-1796
Queen Nzinga was a visionary political leader, competent and self-sacrificing, completely devoted to the resistance movement against the European slave traders. She possessed an abundance of both steely hardness and soft charm and used them each, depending on the situation, as a tactical tool when it suited her.
Her death in 1663 helped open the door to the massive Portuguese slave traffic. Yet her struggle helped to inspire others to follow in her powerful path and continue to mount offensives against the white invaders. Queen Nzinga is so revered that, despite logic, a pre-historic imprint of a footprint on a rock at Pungu Andongo in Angola is attributed to her.
One of Queen Nzinga’s spiritual children, a ferocious middle-aged woman known as Nanny, led a victorious slave revolt in Jamaica, then founded a free Maroon community called, Nannyville. It is said that when the pursuing British fired cannonballs into their village, Nanny caught them between her buttocks and shot them right back at the soldiers.
Harriet Tubman, another on Queen Nzinga’s mission, was, in addition to being the famous founder of the underground railway, a soldier in the Union army of the North. On June 2, 1863, at the age of sixty-six, she led a mission on the Tennessee River with three gunboats under her command. Queen Harriet and her allies blew up a Confederate bridge, engaged in espionage, and saved the lives of seven hundred and fifty-six slaves. After the war, the army not only refused to recognize her contributions, they robbed her of her just veteran’s pension.
I am Queen Nzinga.
I am Queen Amina.
I am Harriet Tubman.
I am Mbuya Nehanda.
And Behold! I’ve been pushed!
Down! To the ground!
With only my bare hands
To use as a cup.
But I have fought many wars,
Plus untold battles,
AND I ALWAYS PULL MYSELF BACK UP.
- Nilene O. A. Foxworth
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.