Empress Taitu Bitul of Ethiopia (1851 – February 11, 1918)
Empress Taitu was the loyal wife of Emperor Menelik II. She was considered a brilliant military strategist, a commander and an advisor to her husband. Taitu’s relationship with Emperor Menelik was one of mutual respect, independence, trust and reciprocity. Taitu played a key role in halting European’s plot to colonize Ethiopia when she advised her husband to reject the Treaty of Wuchale (May 2, 1889) between Italy and Ethiopia.
The Italian translation of article 17 of the treaty would have made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate. In contrast, the Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as just a diplomatic partnership.
Taitu’s advice lead to Menelik tearing up the Wuchale Treaty, which then lead to Italy waging war in what became know as the First Italo–Ethiopian War or the 1896 Battle of Adwa. Taitu reportedly marched north with the Emperor and the Imperial Army, commanding a force of cannoneers.
According to the research of Profesor Ayele Bekerie, Taitu’s strategy helped Ethiopia soundly defeat Italy during the Battle of Mekelle.
“At the Battle of Mekelle, she advised Ras Mekonen to cut off the water supply to the Italians in order to disgorge them from their entrenched and heavily fortified positions at Endeyesus Hill on the eastern part of Mekelle City. Taitu was also the receiver and analyzer of intelligence information collected by spies, such as Basha Awalom Haregot and Gebre Igziabher. Historians characterize the intelligence data obtained by Awalom and Gebre Igzabher as crucial importance to the Ethiopian victory at the battle.”
Amina Queen of Zaria (d. 1610)
Amina was a Hausa Muslim warrior queen of Zazzua, a province of Nigeria now known as Zaria. Amina became queen after her younger brother Karama died. During her brother’s rule, it was believed that Amina was honing her military skills.
Three months after taking power, Amina set off on her first military expedition. In her thirty-four year reign, she expanded the domain of Zazzua to its largest size ever. Her focus, however, was not on the annexation of neighboring lands, but on forcing local rulers to accept vassal status and permit Hausa traders safe passage.
Amina according to geni.com is “credited with popularizing the earthen city wall fortifications,” which became characteristic of Hausa city-states since then. She ordered building of a defensive wall around each military camp that she established.
“Later, towns grew within these protective walls, many of which are still in existence. They’re known as ‘ganuwar Amina,’ or Amina’s walls. She is mostly remembered as “Amina, Yar Bakwa ta san rana,” meaning ‘Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.’”
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (October 25, 1900 – April 13, 1978
Kuti was a teacher, political campaigner, and women’s rights activist who headed the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in southwest Nigeria. The purpose of the union was to organize the working class market woman and the middle class women against both colonial rule and the patriarchal structure.
In Abeokuta, located in southwest Nigeria, colonial taxation by the British emerged as an unfair practice that predominantly targeted women. Nearly a year after numerous proposals to the Egba King (Alake of Egbaland), Oba Ademola II were met with little change, Kuti lead thousands of women in protest in the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt outside of the king’s palace.
The response from the colonial authorities was brutal. The police force utilized tear gas and beatings on the women.
Despite the dangerous circumstances, the AWU continued to protest and released a document called the AWU’s Grievances in 1947 that detailed all their accusations against the Alake and the SNA. Following the list of grievances, the women once again held a demonstration outside the Alake’s palace from November 29, 1947, until the morning of November 30. There were over ten thousand women in attendance.
In the end, their demands were met, leading to the abdication of the King in 1949, the SNA system was changed, and four women had positions in the new system of administration.
Ransome-Kuti’s political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria and was regarded as “The Mother of Africa.” These uprisings were among the earliest campaigns against British rule in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial era.
Kuti was the mother of the world’s celebrated musician, King of Afrobeats and political activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Nehanda Mbuya Nehanda a.k.a Charwe Nyakasikana (c. 1840-1898)
Charwe Nyakasikana was a Shona spirit medium also called Mbuya Nehanda, meaning grandmother Nehanda. She played an important role in mobilizing the Black masses against white rule in what is now popularly referred to as the First Chimurenga which took place between 1886 and 1897. Along with her messengers, Nehanda traveled from village to village encouraging the people to rise up and fight against the colonizers. While predicting that the people would not conquer the colonial masters at this time, she still called for a stand to be taken against the colonizers’ curtailment of rights and freedoms.
Upon realizing her influence, the colonial forces decided to take action against Nehanda. A death warrant issued against her states that during a criminal session of the High Court, held on March 2 1898, Nehanda was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. The warrant goes on to give the scheduled date of Nehanda’s execution as the 27th of April 1898. The execution is said to have taken place at the Gaol (Jail) of Salisbury.
It is claimed that it took three attempts before Nehanda eventually succumbed to her death. But before she did, she prophesied that her bones would rise again; a reference used by the guerrillas in resistance songs during the war for independence, commonly referred to as the Second Chimurenga. Some researchers state that the British forces immediately buried the bodies at an undisclosed site to avoid their being exhumed and reburied.
THE THREE QUEENS OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS – Queen Mary, Agnes & Matilda (1800s)
Three former enslaved Blacks led a labor revolt in the Danish Virgin Islands, now the U.S. Virgin Islands in the late 1800s. Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Matilda were immortalized as sculptors on a fountain located on a hill above the city of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. The women are shown standing back to back forming a triangle.
A plaque below the statue reads:
“In 1878 three former slave ladies on St. Croix led an insurrection against the Danish Government for improved working and living conditions. During this action a major portion of Frederiksted was destroyed by fire. This revolt is known today as ‘FIREBURN’ and the ladies are renowned as “Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Matilda” – The Three Queens of the Virgin Islands.”
Mekatilili wa Menza (d. 1925)
Mekatilili wa Menza may have been in the freedom struggle scene for a short time, but her contribution in raising the African consciousness among the Giriama people of the Coastal Kenya was immense.
Mekatilili was one of the first women in Kenya to rise up against the British in 1913. Her bravery, oratorical power and charisma earned her a huge following and saw her mobilize the Giriama to take oaths and offer sacrifices to restore their sovereignty.
Initially, her concern was the breakdown of the Giriama culture amid British influence and she pushed for a return to the traditional Giriama governance system. By extension, it created resistance to the authority of the British and the appointed headmen, the latter whom she accused of betraying the Giriama for rewards.
Mekatilili was particularly against the issue of labor recruitment. At the time, the British were putting increasing economic pressure on the Giriama, through taxation, attempts to control trade in palm wine and ivory, and by the recruitment of young men to work on plantations and public works projects.
Mekatilili’s anguish was over the growing disintegration of the Giriama, so she called upon her people to save their sons and daughters from getting lost in the British ways.
While her rebellion lasted for only one year, from 1913 to 1914, it had considerable impact on the relations between the British and the locals.
Despite her exploits, Mekatilili, who died in 1925 at the age of 70, was not recognized among Kenyan freedom fighters until October 20, 2010, the first ‘Mashujaa’ (Heroes) Day, when her statue was unveiled at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi — renamed Mekatilili wa Menza Garden — in her honor.