There’s a chapter in my book Malcolm X, Bob Marley, and Other Essays which focuses on how slavery and colonialism adversely impacted the role of African women. I show in that chapter that in pre-colonial African societies African women held positions of power and influence. This was eroded due to the sexist nature of colonialism which stripped African women of their social influence.
In the history of colonialism in Africa, women had often played a leading role in the struggle against colonialism. This is a point which I noted in my book as well. Some examples which I have included were protests led by women in countries such as Kenya, Cameroon, and Nigeria. In addition to these mass protests, there were also examples of African queens who led their nations in the struggle against the invading colonial powers of Europe.
One of the earliest examples of this was Queen Amanirenas of Kush who led her kingdom in a war of resistance against Rome which resulted in a peace treaty. Centuries later, Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba spent decades resisting Portuguese slave traders. Nzinga emerged as a brilliant military commander and stateswoman who not only managed to sustain resistance against the Portuguese, but was also able to secure political alliances which strengthened her position. Her abilities were demonstrated by the fact that she ruled over two kingdoms.
Yaa Asantewaa of the Asante Empire led her people in their final war against the British. The Asante people had spent nearly a century resisting British colonialism. The final conflict was started when the British requested that the Asante people hand over the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool was regarded as scared by the Asante people. Rather than giving it up, the Asante people waged a war to protect the Golden Stool. Yaa Asantewaa was defeated and exiled, but she was successful in her aim of protecting the Golden Stool from falling into British hands. Much like Nzinga, Yaa Asantewaa is remembered as an icon of African resistance.
Yet another example is that of Taytu of Ethiopia. Taytu was married to Menelik II, who was Ethiopia’s emperor. Taytu was not only a vocal advocate of going to war to protect Ethiopia from Italian invasion, but Taytu also participated in the war by commanding soldiers in their confrontation with the Italians. These examples demonstrate that African women played in the struggle to liberate Africa.
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