4 African Queens & Empresses in History You Should Know
Queen Amina (also known as Queen Aminatu), was the elder daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku, the founder of the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. Some scholars date Queen Amina’s reign to about 1549, as heir apparent after the death of her mother. This medieval African kingdom was located in the region now known as the Kaduna State in the north-central region of Nigeria, capital at the modern city of Zaria. Zaria (aka Birnin Zaria) was named after Queen Amina’s younger sister Zariya, and is where the Royal Palace of Zaria resided.
Queen Amina is a legend among the Hausa people for her military exploits. She controlled the trade routes in the region, erecting a network of commerce within the great earthen walls that surrounded Hausa cities within her dominion. According to the Kano Chronicle, she conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years.
In the sixteenth century, the Portugese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portugese shifted their slave-trading activities to the Congo and South West Afrika. Mistaking the title of the ruler (ngola) for the name of the country, the Portugese called the land of the Mbundu people Angola—the name by which it is still known today. Here, the Portugese encountered the brilliant and courageous Queen Nzinga, who was determined never to accept the Portugese conquest of her country. An exceptional stateswoman and military strategist, she harassed the Portugese until her death, at age eighty.
Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande), the monarch of the Mbundu people, was a resilient leader who fought against the Portuguese and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa.
During the late 16th Century, the French and the English threatened the Portuguese near monopoly on the sources of slaves along the West African coast, forcing it to seek new areas for exploitation. By 1580 they had already established a trading relationship with Afonso I in the nearby Kongo Kingdom. They then turned to Angola, south of the Kongo.
The Portuguese established a fort and settlement at Luanda in 1617, encroaching on Mbundu land. In 1622 they invited Ngola (King) Mbande to attend a peace conference there to end the hostilities with the Mbundu. Mbande sent his sister, Nzinga, to represent him in a meeting with Portuguese Governor Joao Corria de Sousa. Nzinga was aware of her diplomatically awkward position. She knew of events in the Kongo which had led to Portuguese domination of the nominally independent nation. She also recognized, however, that to refuse to trade with the Portuguese would remove a potential ally and the major source of guns for her own state.
In the first of a series of meetings Nzinga sought to establish her equality with the representative of the Portugal crown. Noting that the only chair in the room belonged to Governor Corria, she immediately motioned to one of her assistants who fell on her hands and knees and served as a chair for Nzinga for the rest of the meeting.
Despite that display, Nzinga made accommodations with the Portuguese. She converted to Christianity and adopted the name Dona Anna de Souza. She was baptized in honor of the governor’s wife who also became her godmother. Shortly afterwards Nzinga urged a reluctant Ngola Mbande to order the conversion of his people to Christianity.
In 1626 Nzinga became Queen of the Mbundu when her brother committed suicide in the face of rising Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions. Nzinga, however, refused to allow them to control her nation. In 1627, after forming alliances with former rival states, she led her army against the Portuguese, initiating a thirty year war against them. She exploited European rivalry by forging an alliance with the Dutch who had conquered Luanda in 1641. With their help, Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army in 1647. When the Dutch were in turn defeated by the Portuguese the following year and withdrew from Central Africa, Nzinga continued her struggle against the Portuguese. Now in her 60s she still personally led troops in battle. She also orchestrated guerilla attacks on the Portuguese which would continue long after her death and inspire the ultimately successful 20th Century armed resistance against the Portuguese that resulted in independent Angola in 1975.
Despite repeated attempts by the Portuguese and their allies to capture or kill Queen Nzinga, she died peacefully in her eighties on December 17, 1663.
Queen Tiye (Taia, Tiy, and Tiyi) was the matriarch of the Amarna Dynasty, also referred to as: Lady of The Two Lands; Hereditary Princess; Great of Praises; Sweet of Love; King’s Wife; Great King’s Wife; Great King’s Spouse; King’s Wife, His Beloved; Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt; Mistress of the Two Lands).
Queen Tiye’s father was Yuya, the commander of the Chariotry, God’s Father and High Priest of Min from Akhmin in Upper Kemet. Her mother was Thuya (Tuya, Tjuyu, Thuyu, Singer of Hathor), Chief of the Entertainers of Amun and Min. According to “The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology,” Thuya may have also been descendent of Ahmose-Nefertari of the 18th dynasty. Queen Tiye’s parents were buried in the Valley of the Kings (tomb KV46). Her brother was Amen, Second Priest of Amun in Karnak.
The ancient Egyptian (Kemet) ruler Pharaoh Amenhotep III was so captivated by Queen Tiye’s wisdom and beauty that he defied customs and made her his Great Royal Spouse during the second year of his reign. The commentators note that her counsel was relied upon greatly by Pharaoh Amenhotep III, in both national military and political matters. According to some Amarna letters, Queen Tiye was indeed an influential lady at court and acquired independent wealth owned separate from the wealth of the royal house.
Empress Menen was the wife and consort of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.. She was active in promoting women’s issues in Ethiopia, was Patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross, and the Ethiopian Women’s Charitable Organization. She was also patroness of the Jerusalem Society that arranged for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. She founded the Empress Menen School for Girls in Addis Ababa, the first all-girls school which had both boarding and day students. Girls from all over the Empire were brought to the school to receive a modern education, encouraged by the Empress who visited it often and presided over its graduation ceremonies. The Empress gave generously, as well as sponsored programs for the poor, ill and disabled. She was also a devoutly religious woman who did much to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She built, renovated and endowed numerous churches in Ethiopia and in the Holy Land. Prominent among these are the St. Raguel Church in Addis Ababa’s Merkato district, the Kidane Mehret (Our Lady Covenant of Mercy) Church on Mount Entoto, and the Holy Trinity Monastery on the banks of the River Jordan in the Holy Land. She gave generously from her personal funds towards the building of the new Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion at Axum, but did not live to see it completed and dedicated.
When the Empress was exiled from Ethiopia during the Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941, she made a pledge to the Virgin Mary at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, promising to give her crown to the church if Ethiopia were liberated from occupation. The Empress made numerous pilgrimages to Holy Sites in then British-ruled Palestine, in Syria and in Lebanon, during her exile to pray for her occupied homeland. Following the return of Emperor Haile Selassie and his family to Ethiopia in 1941, a replica of the crown was made for future Empresses, but the original crown that Empress Menen was crowned with at her husband’s side in 1930 was sent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Empress Menen, although often seen wearing a tiara at public events that called for it, would never again wear a full crown.
Empress Menen performed perfectly in the role of Empress-consort. In her public role she combined religious piety, concern for social causes, and support for development schemes with the majesty of her Imperial status. Outwardly she was the dutiful wife, visiting schools, churches, exhibitions and model farms, attending public and state events at her husband’s side or by herself. She took no public stand on political or policy issues. Behind the scenes however, she was the Emperor’s most trusted advisor, quietly offering advice on a whole range of issues. She avoided the publicly political role that her predecessor as Empress-consort, Empress Taitu Bitul, had taken, which had caused deep resentment in government circles during the reign of Menelik II.
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