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African Queens

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.These are the words of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, distinguished Black author, editor, publisher, and historian (December 1875 - April 1950). Carter G. Woodson believed that Blacks should know their past in order to participate intelligently in the affairs in our country. He strongly believed that Black history - which others have tried so diligently to erase - is a firm foundation for young African Americans to build on in order to become productive citizens of our society.

Afonso I KING OF THE KONGO (1506-1540)

Afonso I (often spelled "Affonso" as he did in his own letters, translated in English as Alphonzo or Alphonse) Mvemba a Nzinga of Kongo (c. 1456 - 1542 or 1543), who reigned from 1509 to late 1542 or 1543, was the son of king Nzinga a Nkuwu, who was ruling in 1483 when the Portuguese arrived, and was baptized by them as João I in 1491. Afonso was probably baptized at about the same time. Afonso was assigned to rule Kongo's northern province of Nsundi, and was accompanied there by a number of Portuguese priests. He was successful in his rule there, extending Nsundi's borders probably north of the Congo River. According to Afonso's account of events his father lost his interest in Christianity toward the end of his reign, but Afonso became a devout Christian. Intrigues at court, caused João to doubt his son, and he was deprived of his province, but eventually Afonso exonerated himself and was returned to the province.

Around 1509 João died, and potential rivals lined up to take over the kingdom, as it was an elective rather than a hereditary monarchy. Afonso was assisted in his attempt by his mother, who kept news of João's death and gave Afonso time to return to the capital city of Mbanza Kongo and gather followers. Thus when the death of the king was announced Afonso was already in the city. The strongest opposition came from his half brother Mpanzu a Kitima (or Mpanzu a Nzinga). Mpanzu raised an army in the provinces and, according to Afonso's testimony, renounced Christianity and opposed the conversion of the country. However, in the battle that followed as Mpanzu's followers tried to storm the city, he was defeated, according to Afonso, when his men saw an apparition of Saint James the Great and the Holy Ghost in the sky and fled in panic. This miracle, which Afonso described in a letter of 1509 (now lost) became the basis for a coat of arms that Kongo used for the next three centuries (until 1860).

Virtually all that is known about Kongo in the time of Afonso's reign is known from his long series of letters, written in Portuguese primarily to the kings Manuel I and João III of Portugal. Among them are the oldest surviving documents written in a European language by an African. The letters are often very long and give many details about the administration of the country. Many of the letters complain about the behavior of several Portuguese officials, and these letters have given rise to an interpretation of Afonso's reign as one in which Portuguese interests submerged Afonso's ambitions.

Afonso is best known for his vigorous attempt to convert Kongo to a Christian country, by establishing the church, providing for its financing from tax revenues, and creating schools. By 1516 there were over 1000 students in the royal school, and other schools were located in the provinces, eventually resulting in the development of a fully literate noble class (schools were not built for ordinary people). Afonso also sought to develop an appropriate theology to merge the religious traditions of his own country with that of Christianity. He studied theologcial textbooks, falling asleep over them, according to Rui d'Aguiar (the Portuguese royal chaplain who was sent to assist him). To aid in this task, Afonso sent various of his children and nobles to Europe to study, including his son Henrique Kinu a Mvemba, who was elevated to the status of bishop in 1518. He was given the bishopric of Utica (in North Africa) by the Vatican, but actually served in Kongo from his return there in the early 1520s until his death in 1531.

In 1526 Afonso wrote a series of letters complaining about the behavior of the Portuguese in his country and their role in the developing slave trade. At one point he accused them of assisting brigands in his own country and illegally purchasing as slaves free people. He also threatened to close of the trade altogether. However, in the end, Afonso established an examination committee to determine the legality of all enslaved persons presented for sale.

Afonso was a determined soldier and extended Kongo's effective control to the south, especially. His letter of 5 October 1514 reveals the connections between Afonso's men, Portuguese mercenaries in Kongo's service (who he denounced as lazy and cowardly) and the capture and sale of slaves by his forces.

Toward the end of his life, Afonso's children and grandchildren began maneuvering for the succession, and in 1540 plotters that included Portuguese residents in the country made an unsuccessful attempt on his life. He died toward the end of 1542 or perhaps at the very beginning of 1543, leaving his son Pedro to succeed him. Although his son was soon overthrown by his grandson Diogo (in 1545) and had to take refuge in a church, the grandchildren and later descendants of three of his daughters provided many later kings. Notes ^ French, Howard W.: "A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa", page 24. Vintage Books, 2005


Askia Toure

   KING OF SONGHAY (1493-1529)

Sonni Ali was succeeded by Askia Muhammad Touré (1493-1528), who established a new dynasty, the Askia. Askia Muhammad Toure, the leader of a rebellion against Sonni Baru, overthrew Sonni Ali's son. When he took the crown, he changed his name to Askia the Great. Muhammad Touré continued Sonni Ali's imperial expansion by seizing the important Saharan oases and conquering Mali itself. From there he conquered Hausaland. In addition, Muhammad Touré further centralized the government by creating a large and elaborate bureaucracy to oversee his extensive empire. Askia Toure united the entire central region of the Western Sudan, and established a governmental machine that is still revered today for its detail and efficiency. He divided his country into provinces, each with a professional administrator as governor, and ruled each fairly and uniformly through a staff of distinguished legal experts and judges.

He was also the first to standardize weights, measures, and currency, so culture throughout the Songhay began to homogenize. Muhammad Touré was also a fervent Muslim; he replaced native Songhay administrators with Arab Muslims in order to Islamicize Songhay society. He also appointed Muslim judges, called qadis, to run the legal system under Islamic legal principles.

Under Askia the Great's rule, education in the Songhai Empire, especially Timbuktu, flourished. He built a university in Timbuktu for students. Djenn‘e also became a center of learning. He encouraged learning in Timbuktu by rewarding its professors with larger pensions as an incentive.

The empire also saw increased centralization. He also established an order of precedence and protocol and was noted as a noble man who gave back generously to the poor. Under his Islamic policies, Muhammad brought much stability to Songhai and great attestations of this noted organization is still preserved in the works of Maghrebin writers such as Leo Africanus, among others.

Behanzin Hossu Bowelle


Behanzin was the most powerful ruler in West Africa during the end of the nineteenth century. He strongly resisted European intervention into his country. This was done with a physically fit army which included a division of five thousands female warriors. He is often referred to as the King Shark, a Dahomeyan surname which symbolized strength and wisdom. He was also fond of humanities and is credited with the creation of some of the finest song and poetry ever produced in Dahomey. Whatever the cause, war began when Behanzin declared the treaty he had made with France null and void. This treaty was an outgrowth of one that had been made in 1868 by his father, GliGli, who had ceded Cotonou to France. By virtue of a subsequent agreement made in 1890, France had agreed to pay 20,000 francs in gold annually for the use of this port. Behanzin, it is charged, deliberately turned his back on attempts at amicable settlement. When the French envoys arrived at his palace of Dioxene with presents from M. Eitenne, secretary of colonies, it is reported he brushed the presents aside, saying contemptuously, "We have cases full of that in Dahomey." When told of the workings of the system of government in France, it is said that he took his pipe from his mouth and laughed loud and long, saying that he much preferred his own, which was quicker and more original. " Dahomey," he asserted, "has never ceded Cotonou to France, and if the French do not get out at once, I will drive them out myself." War began. In the first few engagements Behanzin was victorious. France, realizing that she had a difficult enemy to cope with, selected her best colonial fighter, Colonel A. A. Dodds, a Senegalese mulatto, and sent him against Behanzin. Behanzin defied Dodds. To a letter demanding submission, he replied:

Fxance wishes war. Let her know that I am stronger and more determined than my father. I have never done anything to France that should make war on me. I have never gone to France either to the wives or daughters of the French. If they wish to take them I will cut down all the palm trees. I will poison them. If they not what to eat, let them go elsewhere. Every other nation, English, Portuguese, can come into my kingdom. But the I will drive them away. I am the friend of the whites; ready to receive them when they wish to come to see me, but prompt to make war whenever they wish.

Behanzin and his warriors fought bravely, but they proved no match for the well-armed forces of the French, except in hand-tohand combat. At Atchoupa, during a fierce storm, a force estimated at 7000 warriors and 200 amazons hurled itself at the French. The women fought with supreme courage, preferring death to retreat. Clinging to the legs of the French troops, they brought them to earth and poignarded them.

Describing the battle, an eyewitness said:The Dahomeyans showed a tenacity and bravery unheard of. But their dash was broken by the discipline and the marksmanship of the Senegalese sharpshooters. The entrance to the fort bore witness of the rage with which the Dahomeyans fought.... It was heaped with the corpses of men and women warriors.

At Djebe and Kana the amazons charged the machine guns, falling dead at the very feet of the French gunners. A few days later Dodds captured Dioxene, Behanzin's largest palace.

Behanzin now sought peace, the more so as two of his neighbors, the Egbas and the Gesus, had joined the French. He sent three envoys to Colonel Dodds, offering an indemnity of $5,000,000 and free trade at the port of Cotonou. As a peace token, he sent cattle, gold, and two silver hands of superb Dahomeyan work, asking Dodds to take one of the hands and cross it with his own in a sign of friendship. Dodds, in return, sent biscuits and conserves, saying that he was willing to make peace on condition that Behanzin permit him to hoist the French flag at Abomey, his capital. Behanzin promptly refused. After a stiff battle, the French captured Abomey, or rather its ruins. Behanzin had fired the town destroying his palace with all its wonderful art treasures. His throne of beaten gold was undamaged, however. Later was presented to King Toffa, in recognition of his loyalty. With Behanzin in flight, Dodds namod Behanzin's brother, A Agbo, king and told the Dahomeyans that henceforth they under the protection of France.

Soon afterward Dodds sailed for France. But hardly had he arrived when Behanzin was again on the warpath. Returning, he defeated Behanzin. On January 24, 1894' with the last remnants of his army gone, Behanzin walked coolly into the French camp, his long pipe in his mouth, and gave himself up. He was given a glass of rum--"which he drank as an ordinary mortal would"--was bustled off to the coast, and thence to France. Later he was exiled to Martinique. For many years he vainly sought permission to return to his native land. Finally he was permitted to live in Algeria. He passed away at Bleda in 1906' at the age of sixty-five. In 1928 his son, Prince Ouanilo Behanzin, removed his body to Dahomey, the prince himself dying on the return trip to France.

Ahmadou Bamba (1850-1927)

Ahmadou Bamba (1850-1927) (Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke in Wolof, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Habīb Allāh in Arabic, also known as Khadīmu 'l-Rasūl or "The Servant of the Prophet" in Arabic, and as Sëriñ Tuubaa or "Holy Man of Tuubaa" in Wolof), Muslim Sufi religious leader in Senegal, founder of the large Mouride Brotherhood (the Muridiyya). 

He was born in the village of Mbacké (Mbàkke Bawol in Wolof) in the Kingdom of Baol, the son of a marabout from the Xaadir (Qadriyya) brotherhood (the oldest in Senegal).Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba was a mystic and ascetic marabout who produced a prodigious quantity of poems and tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Qur'anic study, and made good-luck amulets for his followers. Although he did not support the French conquest, he did not wage outright war on them as several prominent Tijaan marabouts had done.

The mission of rehabilitation of Islam

Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba is considered one of the greatest spiritual leaders in Senegal. He founded Mouridism. Mouridism advocates an aspiration to Allah the Almighty in accordance with the prophet's (Muhammad) message. In a struggle against the colonizer he did use peaceful way to restore the value of an Islam no longer practiced in a good way due to the oppressor influence. In other words, in a period where resistance was made by weapons, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba revolutionized the struggle by using his spiritual strength against the oppressor. The Koran and the Hadith were his weapons. His mission reveals two aspects: the aspiration to the rank of Servant privilege of the Prophet but also the rehabilitation of Islam.

Aesop (560 B.C.)

 The influence of Aesop on the Western thoughts and morals is profound. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and other great thinkers found inspiration in his words of wisdom. His writings have been translated into almost every language of the civilized world. 

Aesop's was a Phygrian, in Asia Minor, a African slave, flat-nosed, thick lips, Black skin from which his name was contracted (Esop being the same as Ethiop).

Aesop's first master was Xanthus, who saw him in a market where he was for sale with two other slaves, a musician and an orator. Xanthus asked the musician what could he do? He replied "Anything." The orator to the same question replied, "Everything." Turning next to Aesop, "And what can you do?" "Nothing," Aesop replied. "Nothing," repeated Xanthus, and Aesop replied, "One of my companions says he can do anything, and the other says that he can do everything. That leaves me nothing." This is an example of the wit of Aesop .


Ahmed Baba (1556-1627) Ahmad Baba al-Massufi al-Tinbukti, full name Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Ahmad al-Takruri Al-Massufi al-Tinbukti .

The Songhai Empire ruled about two thirds of West Africa, including the lands now called Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Northern Nigeria and Niger. When the Empire collapsed, due to an Arab and European invasion in 1591 AD, its intelligentsia were arrested by the conquerors and dragged in chains across the Sahara. One of these scholars was Professor Ahmed Baba. The author of 60 books, Professor Baba enjoyed a very high reputation. Amongst the Songhai, he was known as "The Unique Pearl of his Time". In a Moroccan text from the period, the praise for him was even more gushing. He is described as "the imam, the erudite, the high-minded, the eminent among scholars, Abu l-Abbas Ahmed Baba."

In Morocco, the Arab scholars petitioned to have him released from jail. He was released a year after his arrival on 9 May 1596. Major Dubois, a French author, narrates that: "All the believers were greatly pleased with his release, and he was conducted in triumph from his prison to the principal mosque of Marrakech. A great many of the learned men urged him to open a course of instruction. His first thought was to refuse, but overcome by their persistence he accepted a post in the Mosque of the Kerifs and taught rhetoric, law, and theology. An extraordinary number of pupils attended his lectures, and questions of the gravest importance were submitted to him by the magristracy, his decision always being treated as final."

Despite this adulation, Baba was careful to credit his learning to the Almighty and thus maintained his modesty. A Moroccan source tells of an audience he obtained with Al Mansur. It appears that the scholar gave the sultan something of a dressing down. Baba complained about the sultan's lack of manners, his ill treatment received during his original arrest, the sacking of his private library of 1600 books, and the destruction of the Songhai Empire. We are told by the Moroccan author that Al Mansur "being unable to reply to [any of] this, put an end to the audience."

The professor was detained in Morocco for a total of 12 years. Eventually he received permission from Al Mansur's successor to return to Songhai. Just before his departure across the desert, he vowed in the presence of the leading scholars of Marrakesh who had gathered to give him a send off, "May God never bring me back to this meeting, nor make me return to this country!" He returned to a devastated Timbuktu and died there in 1627.

Cheikh Anta Diop

Diop was born to an aristocratic Muslim Wolof family in Senegal where he was educated in a traditional Islamic school. Diop's family was part of the Mouride sect. He studied Qur'an at a young age which is believed to contributed with his disciplined studious abilities.

Cheikh Anta Diop, a modern champion of African identity, was born in Diourbel, Senegal on December 29, 1923. At the age of twenty-three, he journeyed to Paris, France to continue advanced studies in physics.

Within a very short time, however, he was drawn deeper and deeper into studies relating to the African origins of humanity and civilization. Becoming more and more active in the African student movements then demanding the independence of French colonial possessions, he became convinced that only by reexamining and restoring Africa's distorted, maligned and obscured place in world history could the physical and psychological shackles of colonialism be lifted from our Motherland and from African people dispersed globally. His initial doctoral dissertation submitted at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1951, based on the premise that Egypt of the pharaohs was an African civilization--was rejected. Regardless, this dissertation was published by Presence Africaine under the title Nations Negres et Culture in 1955 and won him international acclaim. Two additional attempts to have his doctorate granted were turned back until 1960 when he entered his defense session with an array of sociologists, anthropologists and historians and successfully carried his argument. After nearly a decade of titanic and herculean effort, Diop had finally won his Docteur es Lettres! In that same year, 1960, were published two of his other works--the Cultural Unity of Black Africa and and Precolonial Black Africa.

During his student days, Cheikh Anta Diop was an avid political activist. From 1950 to 1953 he was the Secretary-General of the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA) and helped establish the first Pan-African Student Congress in Paris in 1951. He also participated in the First World Congress of Black Writers and Artists held in Paris in 1956 and the second such Congress held in Rome in 1959. Upon returning to Senegal in 1960, Dr. Diop continued his research and established a radiocarbon laboratory in Dakar. In 1966, the First World Black Festival of Arts and Culture held in Dakar, Senegal honored Dr. Diop and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois as the scholars who exerted the greatest influence on African thought in twentieth century. In 1974, a milestone occurred in the English-speaking world when the African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality was finally published. It was also in 1974 that Diop and Theophile Obenga collectively and soundly reaffirmed the African origin of pharaonic Egyptian civilization at a UNESCO sponsored symposium in Cairo, Egypt. In 1981, Diop's last major work, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology was published.

Dr. Diop was the Director of Radiocarbon Laboratory at the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN) at the University of Dakar. He sat on numerous international scientific committees and achieved recognition as one of the leading historians, Egyptologists, linguists and anthropologists in the world. He traveled widely, lectured incessantly and was cited and quoted voluminously. He was regarded by many as the modern pharoah' of African studies. Cheikh Anta Diop died quietly in sleep in Dakar, Senegal on February 7, 1986.


C Cetshwayo "Zulu King" (d. 1884)

Cetewayo, King of the Zulu's, was a hero in a war with the British, causing the most crushing defeat the English ever experienced from any Africans in modern history. His victory at Isandlhwana was one of the most terrifying slaughters in history. In 1879, the British invaded Zululand. Cetewayo defeated the British, and killed Prince Napoleon, heir to the French throne.

A missionary, trying to frighten Cetewayo into accepting Christianity, told him of hell fire. "Hell fire?" Cetewayo laughed. Do you think I'm afraid of hell fire? My soldiers would put it out. He commanded his officers to have his warriors to eat a grass fire burning on a nearby hillside. His men immediately began to eat up the fire, not regarding their personal injuries. Cetewayo replied "I eat hell fire." He was a strict military disciplinarian. The army knew they must conquer or die. Certain death always awaited a defeated army.

Cetewayo banished the missionaries from the Zulu territory for plotting against him and meddling in his national affairs. It was then suggested to the governor of the Cape that the Zulu nation should be annihilated in order to secure South Africa.

Having conquered many more British, Cetewayo was soon captured and imprisoned. Three years later, Cetewayo was granted a request to present his case to Queen Victoria. The British found him to be a courteous, friendly, gentleman, not the man-eating savage depicted. He was honored as a hero and promised restoration of his power.

The whites of South Africa never kept the promise of the Queen. When Cetewayo returned home, he again went to war with the enemy. Cetewayo died in February, 1844. Never having surrendered his principles for freedom for his people, the Zulus.

D Dusé Mohamed Ali Date of Birth: 21 November 1866, Alexandria, Egypt. Date of Death: 26 February 1946, Lagos, Nigeria.

Dusé Mohamed Ali was an influential Pan-Africanist, a supporter of Islam, mentor to Marcus Garvey ( This Islamic influence can be seen in Marcus Garvey's motto "One God, One Aim, One Destiny". ) He traveled widely throughout the African Diaspora. He founded the African Times and Orient Review in 1911, which spread the call for African nationalism, and later founded The Comet in Lagos, Nigeria. He created the Universal Islamic Society in Detroit, Michigan (which in turn influenced the creation of the Nation of Islam by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in 1930). 

Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912)

Edward Blyden was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on Aug. 3, 1832, of free, literate parents. A precocious youth, he early decided to become a clergyman. He went to the United States in May 1850 and sought to enter a theological college but was turned down because of his race. In January 1851 he emigrated to Liberia, a African American colony which had become independent as a republic in 1847. Blyden was the Liberian Secretary of State (1862-1864) and Minister of the Interior (1880-1882). 

He continued his formal education at Alexander High School, Monrovia, whose principal he was appointed in 1858. In 1862 he was appointed professor of classics at the newly opened Liberia College, a position he held until 1871. Although Blyden was self-taught beyond high school, he became an able and versatile linguist, classicist, theologian, historian, and sociologist. From 1864 to 1866, in addition to his professorial duties, Blyden acted as secretary of state of Liberia.

From 1871 to 1873 Blyden lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There he edited Negro, the first explicitly pan-African journal in West Africa. He also led two important expeditions to Fouta Djallon in the interior. Between 1874 and 1885 Blyden was again based in Liberia, holding various high academic and governmental offices. In 1885 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Liberian presidency.

After 1885 Blyden divided his time between Liberia and the British colonies of Sierra Leone and Lagos. He served Liberia again in the capacities of ambassador to Britain and France and as a professor and later president of Liberia College. In 1891 and 1894 he spent several months in Lagos and worked there in 1896-1897 as government agent for native affairs.

While in Lagos he wrote regularly for the Lagos Weekly Record, one of the earliest propagators of Nigerian and West African nationalism. In Freetown, Blyden helped to edit the Sierra Leone News, which he had assisted in founding in 1884 "to serve the interest of West Africa ... and the race generally." He also had helped found and edit the Freetown West African Reporter (1874-1882), whose declared aim was to forge a bond of unity among English-speaking West Africans. Between 1901 and 1906 Blyden was director of Moslem/Muslim education; he taught English and "Western subjects" to Muslim youths with the object of building a bridge of communication between the Muslim and Christian communities. He died in Freetown on Feb. 7, 1912.