According to Greek accounts, the earliest Amazons came from Libya (then a name for most of North Africa). They wore red leather and carried crescent-shaped shields. It was these Libyan Amazons, they said, who later founded cities and temples in the Aegean and Anatolia.

At a much later period, the Amazons of Dahomey were crack all-female troops, all female, who also served as royal bodyguards. They were also priestesses and wore crescent moon crowns.

The Hausa had a number of warrior queens, notably Amina of Zau Zau. A woman named Bazao-Turunku led warriors and founded a town south of Zaria.

Nupe women warriors called Isadshi-Koseshi fought as fiercely as the men, opposing invasions of the Fulbe conquerers who raided the Nupe for cattles and slaves, especially women.



Nyabinghi, the "hidden queen" fought to free Africans from English slavery and rule. Also called Queen Muhmusa or Tahtahme, she inspired the Nyabinghi underpinnings of Rastafarianism.

Nanny of the Maroons was born in Ghana, and folk history says that she came to Jamaica with the express purpose of becoming a high priestess and leader of her people, never having been a slave. She led the eastern Maroons based in Moreton, and forged an alliance with another group led by Cudjoe. (The name Maroons comes from the Spanish cimarron,meaning "gone back to the wild.")

The Jamaican Maroons were the first people to force the English to sign a treaty with their subjects, on March 1, 1738. The lands conceded in this treaty formed a base for the Maroon's independent survival. One of these communities was named Nannytown after the female Ghanaian leader. Maroon country was so feared by the English that it became known as the "Land of Look-Behind."



In the summer of 1848, eight or ten people made it across the Ohio river in their northward flight from slavery. The slave catchers tracked them into town, but the bounty they were after turned out to be elusive:

"The women began to gather from adjoining houses until the Amazons were about equal to the [slave-hunters]-- the former with shovels, tongs, washboards and rolling pins; the latter with revolvers, sword-canes and bowie-knives. Finally the beseigers decamped, leaving the Amazons in possession of the field, amid the jeers and loud huzzahs of the crowd."

--Report from The North Star, an African-American paper out of Cincinnati, August 11, 1848. (For more, see Dorothy Sterling's book Speak Out In Thunder Tones.)



"If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon you my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight until the last of us falls in the battlefield."

---Ya Asantewa, an Ashanti queen who led the resistence to British colonial rule in Ghana. She succeeded in the short run, but the Ashanti were heavily outgunned.



The Aba rebellion in southeastern Nigeria grew out of a traditional female rite of the Ibo. People were outraged at the colonial government's plan to tax women, "the trees that bear fruit." In protest, Ibo women bound their heads with ferns, painted their faces with ash, put on loincloths and carried sacred sticks with palm frond wreaths. Thousands marched on the District Office, dancing, singing protests, and demanding the cap of office of the colonial chief Okugo. When he approached one woman to count her goats and sheep, she had retorted, "Was mother counted?"

This protest spread into a vast regional insurrection. The Ibo women's councils mobilized demonstrations in three provinces, turning out over 2,000,000 protesters. The British District Officer at Bende wrote, "The trouble spread in the 2nd week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay's Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners."

Elsewhere women protestors burned down the hated British "Native Courts" and cut telegraph wires, throwing officials into panic. The colonials fired on the female protesters, killing more than fifty and wounding more. Marches continued sporadically into 1930. These mass actions became known as the Aba Rebellion of 1929, or The War of the Women. It was one of the most significant anti-colonial revolts in Africa of that day.

Diola women led similar protests against French attempts to exact a tribute from their rice harvest in Senegal, an event dramatized by filmmaker Ousmane Sembene.

All articles copyright 2000 Max Dashu


If you want to know who I am
I am daughter of Angola, of Kêto and Nagô
I don't fear blows because I am a warrior
Inside of samba I was born
I raised myself, I transformed myself, and
no one will lower my banner, O, O, O.
I am a warrior woman daughter of Ogun and Yansâ

---Song from an album by Brazilian singer Clara Nuñes



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