Throughout African history, women have held roles of leadership, attaining powerful queens in ancient Africa. Whether they were queens or chiefs, or leaders of movements, women have indeed, written their names in the history of Africa.
These African queens and warriors led men to war, ruled kingdoms, and called the shots. Some, even resisted European domination and colonialism.
In no particular order, here is the list of the top most powerful queens in ancient Africa.
1. Ranavalona I (Date of birth/death; 1778 – 1861)
Ranavalona I also known as Ranavalo-Manjaka I, was the sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar for 33 years; from the year 1828 to 1861.
She came into position, and started ruling as the queen after the death of her young husband, Radama I.
Ranavalona maintained a policy of isolationism and self-sufficiency, reducing economic and political ties with European powers. And also, repelling a French attack on the coastal town of Foulpointe.
In 1832, Ranavalona forbade the practice of Christianity among the growing Malagasy Christian movement, initiated under Radama I by members of the London Missionary Society, and within a year of her pronouncement, nearly all foreigners had left her territory.
She made heavy use of the traditional practice of fanompoana (known as the forced labor as tax payment) to finish off public works projects, and formulate a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000 Merina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the island and further expand the realm.
The combination of regular warfare, disease, difficult forced labor, and harsh trials by ordeal. Using a poisonous nut from the Tangena shrub, resulted in a high mortality rate among both soldiers and civilians during her 33-year reign, causing the Madagascar’s population to reduce from 5 million in 1833, to 2.5 million in 1839.
Although Ranavalona has been traditionally depicted as a cruel tyrant, modern historians saw her as an astute politician, who effectively, protected the political and cultural sovereignty of her nation from European encroachment.
During the honor of her death, twelve thousand zebus were slaughtered, followed by a nine-month morning period. Ranavalona I in history today, is famously known among the powerful queens in ancient Africa.
2. Hatshepsut (Date of birth/death; 1507–1458 BC)
Hatshepsut meaning “Foremost of Noble Ladies”, was the second historically confirmed female pharaoh,the first being Sobekneferu. And also, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Been the daughter, and only child of Thutmose I.
Hatshepsut succeeded the throne of Egypt in the year, 1478 BC and her understanding of religion allowed her to establish herself as God’s Wife of Amun. Officially, ruling jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne the previous year as a child of about two years old.
Hatshepsut was generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty.
3. Amina (Date of birth/death; 1533 –1610)
Amina also known as Aminatu, was a Hausa Muslim warrior and queen of the city-state Zazzau, currently known as the present Zaria in Kaduna State. She ruled in the mid-sixteenth century.
At age sixteen, Amina was appointed Magajiya, the heir apparent, and was given forty female slaves ( kuyanga ). Amina’s brother became king of Zazzau after the death of her parents in 1566.
As at that point, she had defined herself as a leading warrior in her brother’s cavalry and gained notoriety for her military skills.
Amina became the queen of the Zazzau state, after the death of her brother Karami, in 1576. And during the period of her ruling, she waged a 34-year campaign against her neighbors, to expand Zazzau territory. She did conquer massive tracts of land up to Kwararafa and Nupe. Amina died in Niagara, the present-day Ida. Till date Amina is known to be among the most powerful queens in ancient Africa
4. Candace Amanirenas
Candace is a name given to any queen or empress of Ethiopia by the Europeans, and these great women were seen to be wives of the gods or the living god.
Amanirenas was the queen of the Kingdom of Kush from c. 40 BC to c. 10 BC. She was known as one of the most famous kandakes, because of her role in leading Kushite armies against the Romans in a war that lasted five years, from 27 BC to 22 BC.
She was described as brave, and blind in one eye, which is as a result of the battle she fought with the Romans.
A legend in the Alexander Romans claimed that when king Alexander the Great attempted to conquer her land in 332 BC, she arranged her armies strategically to meet him, and was present on a war elephant when she approached Ethiopia. After seeing her armies, Alexander withdrew from Nubia and headed to Egypt.
5. Yaa Asantewaa (Date of birth/death; 17 October 1840 – 17 October 1921)
Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire (now known among the part of modern-day Ghana), appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane, the ruler of Midwest.
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, with an army of 5,000.
Yaa Asantewaa was chosen by several regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. She became the first and only woman to be given that role in Asante history.
Powerful Queens in Ancient Africa
6. Ahebi Ugbabe (Date of birth/death; Late 19th century – 1948)
Ahebi Ugbabe was a king ( eze ) and warrant chief of Enugu-Ezike, Nigeria. She was the only female king in colonial Nigeria. She was a slave married to a deity, a runaway, a sex worker, a warrant chief, and ultimately a female king.
She was a strong leader of her people, yet also a collaborator empowered by and serving the British colonial regime in Nigeria.
Ahebi Ugbabe cultivated an aura of mysticism to solidify an image of all-powerful rule. She used pre-colonial traditions to push this mysticism and therefore power. She also used this to augment her gender to effectively make herself king.
Before Ahebi died, she performed her burial rites. She did not trust that her society would accord her a befitting burial, and for that, performed the rites, in such a magnificent manner that her society would never forget that an incredible being such as herself had lived.
After her death, she was buried according to the local customs for burying men.
7. Nzingha Mbande (Date of birth/death; 1583–1663)
Nzingha Mbande was Queen of Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo (1624–1663), and
Matamba (1631–1663), located in present-day northern Angola.
Born into the ruling family of Ndongo, Nzinga received military and political training as a child, and she demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises as an ambassador to the Portuguese Empire.
She later assumed power over the kingdoms, after the death of her father and brother, who both served as kings. She ruled during a period of rapid growth in the African slave trade and encroachment of the Portuguese Empire into South West Africa, in attempts to control the slave trade.
Nzinga fought for the Independence and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese in a reign that lasted 37 years.
8. Queen Yargoje
Yargoje was a leader of Zamfara, a state in this present-day North-West Nigeria. She ruled for 40 years from 1310 to 1350; which was before the reign of Queen Amina.
Yargoje was the first daughter of Dakka, the fifth king of Zamfara. She was not only a queen, she was also head of the Bori cult, which was a pre-Islamic mode of worship in parts of Hausa land.
Yargoje expanded and relocated the capital of the Kingdom from Dutsi to a more tragically defend able area at Kuyambana. And during her reign, there were female chiefs appointed for the first time in the Kingdom.
Her reign was a peaceful and prosperous era.
9. Queen Pokou (Date of birth/death; 1730 – 1760)
Queen Pokou is also known as Acura, Aura, or Abla Pokou was the queen and founder of the Baoule tribe in West Africa, now Ivory Coast. She ruled from the year 1750-1760, over a branch of the powerful Ashanti Empire as it expanded westward.
Queen Pokou became the leader of a breakaway group from the main Ashanti Confederacy, which she refused to join. Disagreements among the factions resulted in war.
Pokou was a great queen and woman who sacrificed what she held most dear for the well-being of her people.