Africa is the birthplace of human civilization, and throughout history, it has been home to some of the world’s most significant leaders. Among those leaders are queens who led their kingdoms with precision, power and have since left an indelible mark on history. We take a look at some of the most dynamic ancient African queens. In no order, here are our 5 most influencial and powerful Queens in African History.
1. Yaa Asantewaa, Asante Kingdom, Ghana
Yaa Asantewaa led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa war, against British colonialism.
Yaa Asantewaa was born October 17, 1840 and she died October 17, 1921. She was queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana, appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Opese, the Edwesuhene, or ruler, of Edwesu. In 1900 she led the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa war, against British colonialism.
2. Nefertiti, queen of ancient Kemet from 1292 to 1225 BC
Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.
Queen Nefertiti, whose name means ‘a beautiful woman has come’, is one of Egypt’s most prominent queens whose painted sandstone bust has become a global icon of feminine beauty and power.
On the walls of tombs and temples built during her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign from 1353 to 1336 B.C, when she was queen, Nefertiti is portrayed as a woman of power and authority, often driving a chariot or smiting an enemy. She and Akhenaten were responsible for Egypt’s major cultural and religious upheaval, establishing the cult of Aten – which saw the sun god Aten as the most important figure in Egypt’s polytheistic canon – and vigorously promoting Egyptian artwork.
It is believed that she was either born in the town of Akhmim or in a foreign country, which is now modern say Syria. It is believed that she was 15-years-old when she married Akhenaten, and together they had six children, including King Tutankhamun, who is described as a powerful pharaoh who, among other exploits, restored the traditional Egyptian religion. Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti often went on exploits together and were said to be genuinely in love, often kissing in public, which is a depiction that is not often seeing in ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
3. Makeda – Queen of Sheba
The Queen of Sheba was a queen regnant who appears in the Bible. The tale of her visit to King Solomon has undergone extensive Jewish, Arabian and Ethiopian elaborations, and has become the subject of one of the most widespread and fertile cycles of legends in the East.
According to Ethiopia’s 14th century royal epic, the Kebra Nagast or “Glory of Kings”, Makeda was a brave young maiden who survived being sacrificed to the monstrous serpent king Awre who was troubling the northern Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. It is believed that Makeda killed the serpent and was then proclaimed as the Queen of Axum.
Makeda is popularly known for her interesting story with biblical figure King Solomon of Jerusalem, who taught her about leadership and monotheism. They had a son named Menelik I (or Ebna la-Hakim), meaning ‘son of the wise’, who became the first Imperial ruler of Ethiopia and the first of a line of Aksûmite Kings.
According to historians, Makeda and her son brought back the biblical Ark of the Covenant to Axum. Through them, the lineage of great East African and Nubian kings was born. The legacy she left to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is the strong emphasis on the Old Testament, as well as a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, which serves as a symbol of the connection between Makeda, Queen of Sheba, and Solomon the Wise.
Apart of being the subject of one of the most recited bible verses to an inevitable subject of the present time of history, Makeda’s achievements and her great kingdom will forever be hailed by several generations yet to come. The most interesting story of this great African leader is the she met wit the biblical King Solomon. In fact, she’s Biblicallly described as the epitome of beauty and power, and had a series of other remarkable achievements recorded in the Glory-of-Kings and Kebar Nagast.
During the reign of Makeda, Ethiopia was conceded to be the second after Egypt as far as power and fame is concerned. This made several kingdoms to be fascinated by how this female ruler could make such a small kingdom to become one of the most revered kingdoms in the world. This was what made King Solomon to be interested in having a commercial relationship with Sheba. As a result, he decided to invited Queen Makeda to Israel, and the rest is History.
4. Queen Nandi (Mother of Shaka)
Nandi spent many hard years being shuffled back and forth between the Zulus and her own tribe. During that time she also had to protect her son from famine, assassination attempts, and his own destructive temper.
Queen Nandi was the mother of Shaka Zulu, one of the Zulu kingdom’s greatest kings in Southern Africa. Queen Nandi’s story is one of resilience as a mother, and one of hope against social pressures.
In 1787 Shaka was born, after Nandi and Senzangakhona had earlier engaged in an act of ukuhlobonga/ukusoma or sex without penetration, allowed to unmarried couples at the time, also known as “the fun of the roads” (amahlaya endlela). Needless to say, Nandi and Senzakhona went beyond ukuhlobonga, resulting in Nandi’s pregnancy.
She endured great humiliation and rejection as a result, but still persisted with raising her son who was named after the iShaka beetle, which was initially blamed as the reason for her raised stomach as leaders tried to deny her pregnancy.
During Shaka’s reign as king, Queen Nandi had great influence over affairs of the kingdom, including being a voice of reason during political strife with neighbouring kingdoms. Through her being Shaka’s pillar of strength, he was able to go on his great exploits, extending the borders of the Zulu kingdom over a period of 12 years. Her death was marked by a long period of mourning known as “Isililo SikaNandi”.
5. Queen Amina of Zaria, Nigeria 15th centrury
Queen Aminatu, daughter of Bakwa Turunku, was a great Hausa warrior who inherited her mother’s strong warlike nature. Her mother built the capital of Zazzau, which formed part of the seven original states of Hausaland in the 16th century. Aminatu was just 16-years-old when her mother became queen and she was given the traditional title of magajiya.
Amina chose to hone her military skills, and became one of the greatest warriors of Zazzau. She is credited as the architect of fortified walls in Hausaland, and as a warrior, she is known for her smart tactic as she increased the borders of Zazzau, ensuring that the kingdom became the centre of the North-South Saharan trade and East-West Sudan trade. Her career as a warrior princess spanned over three decades, and she is celebrated in song as “Amina daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.”