7 Historical Warrior Princesses I Want My Daughter to Emulate


I only recently got a peek at what Americans call ‘Princess Culture’ and sort of connected why the little girls all wanted pink frocks that look like 17th century designs, like to wear tiaras and some of them demand that they get every toy they like. This behaviour seems to be a mirror of the ideology which so many little girls and their parents have been fed through Disney feature films and storybooks. But, this is extremely different from the concepts of royalty that we grew up with in Jamaica.

Although we are no longer a British colony, we’re still constitutional subjects of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and many citizens are fans of the pomp and circumstance that unfolds during state visits by members of the British Royal family. So, we appreciate the political post of ‘princess’ that a woman can hold: as the daughter or granddaughter of a king/queen (like Princess Margaret), or as the wife of a prince (like Princess Diana). In our minds, a princess is never a vain, pampered, sheltered snob with no work experience. Instead, we commonly refer to young females of noble (admirable and dignified) character as ‘Princess’ – based on our matriarchal society and the influence of Rastafari culture.

We have our own local (non-European) female royals in the roles of Beauty Queens, Festival Queens and Dancehall Queens, as well as Rastafari Empresses, Maroon Chieftainesses and Kumina Queens – all of whom are held to higher standards and honoured by the public for what they symbolise. In fact, any woman who dresses modestly, walks confidently and celebrates her natural beauty will often be greeted, “Good morning, Empress!” or “Greetings, Princess” by both men and women in the street; making it no surprise that both 2Face Idibia’s “African Queen” and Tarrus Riley’s “She’s Royal” have been big hits in Jamaica for years.

In contrast to our constitutional monarchy, we have the great legacy of an African Queen, Nanny of the Maroons, who is our national heroine. Queen Nanny was an Ashanti royal who was brought to Jamaica (sold into slavery), but she escaped from the plantation into the mountains before she freed other enslaved Africans and formed her own militant ‘nation’ within the nation. Queen Nanny’s leadership and superior military strategies were so imposing and unmatched, that the English soldiers and government were never able to defeat her. Instead, they sought alliance with the Maroons, offered peace treaties to them and gave the Maroon settlements political autonomy.

The legend of our Warrior Queen has inspired millions of Jamaican girls to be like Nanny – a powerful woman who leads, nurtures and fights for her people. She was my favourite national hero! It is in this tradition of honouring feminine nobility, that I call my daughter ‘Princess’. Not the Disney princess that waits for her prince to come rescue her from vane boredom, but a “warrior princess” like so many who have gone before us. Although I grew up admiring the leadership and strength of our Queen Nanny, I have also learnt of other Warrior Queens and Princesses who serve as powerful role models for young, black girls and women of today. Some of the militant royals that I want my daughter to emulate are:

Yaa Asentawa

  • Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Ashanti empire (part of modern-day Ghana) who led the War of the Golden Stool against the British colonisers. When she saw the men of her empire whimpering at the threats of the invaders, she declared that she would defend her people to the death.

Photo of Queen Nzinga of Angola

    • Nzinga Mbande, Queen of the Ndongo & Matamba kingdoms of Angola, led a 30-year war against the Portuguese who were trying to colonise her people and expand the slave trade. She was never defeated in any of her military missions – even though her armies and weaponry were ‘inferior’ to that of the Europeans.

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    • Amanirenas, was Queen Mother of the Meroetic kingdom of Kush. When the Romans invaded her neighbours and decided to tax her people, she led her armies into war against them. After 5 years of battling against the Romans, Amanirenas defeated them and forced them to withdraw the tax which had threatened the Kushite kingdom.

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    • Taitu Betul, the Empress of the Ethiopian empire, founded the city of Addis Ababa and was a military strategist who initiated the War of Adwa when she discovered Italy’s plot to colonise Ethiopia. She led her own battalion alongside her husband, Emperor Menelik II, and the Imperial Army, defeating the Italians.

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    • Hatshepshut, Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt, came to power after her husband died and she reigned for 20 years. Not interested in invading other territories, she maintained peace during her reign and focused on securing economic prosperity for Egypt. She built and restored many monuments throughout both Egyptian kingdoms and is considered one of the most successful Pharaohs in history.

amina-warrior

    • Amina Sukhera, was the Hausa Queen of Zazzau (part of present-day Nigeria) for 34 years. She was a fierce warrior who led the military in battles and expanded her kingdom by claiming other neighbouring territories. Her innovation led to the introduction of metal armour to her military forces, since her kingdom was known for excellent metalwork.

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  • Elizabeth Bagaaya, the Princess Royal of the Toro Kingdom in Uganda, is a lawyer (the first East African woman to be accepted to the English Bar), and a Diplomat (at the United Nations). During her youth, she worked as a Model and Actress, paving the way for many black women in these industries. Today, she serves Uganda as their High Commissioner to Nigeria.

 
So, when you hear me call my little girl, “Princess” please remember these great African women: true royals who were fearless in the execution of their duties. Our little, black girls need to be fed the stories of black women who were models of leadership, courage, dignity, intelligence, diplomacy, entrepreneurship, compassion and beauty. These are the qualities of a princess – a woman of authority who earns respect and exudes an uncommon beauty – not like the ones you see in the fairytales.

Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.


  • Nina

    Nzinga was a terrible woman though. And there are many accounts of her brutality. Of killing her brother and his entire family, of great brutality to her slaves and basically being a despot. Eh :/

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    • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

      Most of us have two sides to us, though 🙂 That’s why when we die, we get eulogised – they preserved the good side. Either way, we can find the good in Nzinga (and the others) to emulate, while leaving out the rest. Right, sis?

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      • Rev. T

        Actually he was a sell out! he wanted to sell Black people as slaves to the Invaders. He refused to listen to reason so she offed him. NO BIG LOSS.
        Hail, hail Anna Nzinga!

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    • Shirley

      Her brother committed suicide, the Portuguese started rumors of her poisoning him as reason for not recognizing her rule.

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    • merry

      but was she any worse than european royalty?

      they did the same things. they were incestuous. they plotted the downfall of their siblings and other family members, and even killed them.

      somehow, europeans who do the same thing are canonized and idealized.

      i’m not defending poor behaviour, but i just think we are quicker to elevated european descended people even when they’ve done similar things.

      i mean, you elizabeth reigned over england during prosperity which strangely coincided with the rise of slavery.

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  • Abena

    Hi, great article. Just wanted to make a slight correction. Yaa Asantewaa was the Queen Mother of Ejisu and not the whole Ashanti Empire. I think it’s important to note that while she did not have the same level of power as the Asantehemaa she was bold enough and courageous enough to inspire the men of the Ashanti Kingdom to raise arms and fight.

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  • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

    Thanks for pointing out the poor wording, Abena. Accuracy is so important when we pass on history.

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  • youngin girl 1

    I never heard of this before. I’m learning about my history everyday or some other day. I’m 18 and I would like to learn more. This is great and despite the lack of rolemodels in music (Beyonce, Rihanna, Niki minaj) even though there are songs I do like and have listened to but wouldn’t call them ‘rolemodels’. These are my new rolemodels. I should put one of their pictures on my lock screen or somewhere.

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    • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

      That’s beautiful! Keep searching for positive role models because there are so many out there for us.

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      • Rev. T

        Don’t forget The Queen of Ethiopia, the Mother of Menelik the First, who came to King Solomon with riddles and left with his son. His dynasty is still alive to this day.

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  • Taitu

    Good stuff. Children need more of this indeed. And love that my namesake is up there too. Thanks for this sharing.

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  • Tess

    Amina was a great woman. I admired one minor detail about her, she never got married. She slept with men that caught her fancy and killed them as soon as she was done with them. A backstory that only some old northerners will pass through word-of-mouth to their children. She was the only woman in the north who tipped the sexist scales.

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  • Love

    Excellent work…We need more of this in our lives. Would love to even see a University course on Women of the African Diaspora one day.

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  • merry

    the only thing about some african royalty is that many participated in either the arab or transatlantic slave trade. there are families in africa whose wealth comes from that trade.

    the ashanti, fulani, dahomey, etc. were big time slave traders.

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  • Jacky

    Nice post, I really enjoyed it. I don’t want to rain on your parade, I do think that the Disney “princess waiting her whole life for a prince” theme is wrong and silly, but i just want to point out that there are some good Disney princesses. My favourite Disney princesses while growing up were Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine. They were my inspirations growing up and in some ways, they still are. I see a reflection of them in me sometimes too. Mulan was a brave warrior who was not afraid of doing things that only guys do( like going to war ). I’m not afraid to do things that only guys do too, some guys can’t even lift the weights that I lift or walk the distances that I walk so they stare at me in amazement while women stare at me angrily because they can’t do it. A woman was so disturbed about this issue that she told me to ask a guy to do them for me since that’s what she does, I listened politely but never took her advice. Where I am, there are a lot of women who are very lazy( much more than the normal level of laziness: i know a woman who doesn’t wash her clothes but wears them anyways ) and a lot of women depend on guys for so many things. I really don’t want to be like them and i can do the majority of things that i do alone, plus i don’t like the idea of depending on guys too much. They( men and women alike ) laugh at me because I wash my clothes by hand and refuse to use a washing machine among other things that I do, but I know that I’m just training myself to be hardworking( especially since I’ll be a wife and mother one day ) so I ignore them. Pocahontas grew up in a forest and her love of nature and animals and her willingness to defend them to the point of imprisonment seems unmatched. I’ve always loved nature and animals but where I moved to, so many people maltreat animals( especially dogs ). I find myself getting angry about it almost everyday and having to shout at people and defend innocent animals when they’re being maltreated. It’s so bad that even children and parents maltreat animals too. I wonder what kind of place i moved to because I never experienced this in Africa. Jasmine was an inspiration to me because she wasn’t afraid to be herself. She didn’t want to marry a spoiled person and she was determined to not do so. She was also a kind person and I like that. I see some of herself in me in that I’m also determined to not marry someone who’s spoiled, selfish and evil so i wait patiently for the right person while other girls around me date guys who are obviously wrong for them, sleep with them and get dumped. It’s always the same story: Fall in love, have sex, think they’ll be together forever and next thing you know they’ve broken up. I get furious when i see guys breaking girls hearts intentionally and vice versa but some people never learn. I was able to talk my friend out of wanting to date a “bad guy, gangster” type and she’s now in a more stable relationship than those that she’s entered into in the past. It’s not that I don’t get advances, I do and i get lots of them but I will not let myself make the same mistakes that my friend and some other girls make so I choose carefully. For me, it’s better to be with no one at all and have peace of mind than to be losing sleep worrying about the wrong person all the time. These princesses along with those mentioned in your post and other ladies of noble character like Joan of Arc are ladies that I would love myself and my future daughter(s) to emulate.

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    • Didan Ashanta

      You have done a wonderful analysis of the kind of qualities every young girl should have. I’m proud of you for refusing to live a mediocre life and for encouraging others to be compassionate and respectful. Keep being an exceptional warrior princess, Jacky!

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    • Rev. T

      I hear you sister. I am a martial artist and I started teaching women and men how to defend themselves from the age of 18 in college. I had a strong Mama who could outrun most men and an equally strong Daddy who encouraged me to study warfare and great battles. It helped me and many others to stand strong and BE strong. To this day, thanks be to the Almighty One,at the age of 60 I can still walk six miles a day and lift like a man because of the Creator’s strength and power in me.

      May God defend and protect your strength for yourself and others both now and forever.

      Amen.

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  • Sdu

    Hi
    Great piece, however you didn’t mention Makeda the Queen of Sheba. There’s a lot of good she did and she was super intelligent. One of the greatest composer Handel, even wrote a beautiful song ‘The arrival of the Queen of Sheba.’ She was known for being generous and a great cook so as baking. One of her cakes was made popular by the late Julia Child…’The Queen of Sheba Cake. ‘ Her relationship with King Solomon etc. Another one is Princess Magogo of amaZulu, in South Africa. The Zulus are one of the powerful tribe in the southern region, thanks to their founding father King Shaka Zulu. Princess Magogo she was known for introducing jazz and classical music…which back then was a taboo,especially from someone who comes from the rural area even though she was a Princess.She played harp, ugubhu, guitar and many other instruments. Her son is Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who happen to be Toya DeLazy the hip hop/rock singer, who was nominated for the 2013 BET Awards.

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    • Didan Ashanta

      Wow, Sdu! I never knew these little bits of history! I’m so grateful that you have shared them. Do you know of any good books that would share a bit more about these honourable women you’ve highlighted? Please recommend them, because I’d love to learn more. Thanks in advance!

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  • http://www.azuarr.blogspot.com Jazuri J

    Excellent Article Didan!…short, but packing a whole lot of history in a nice ‘verbal smoothie’. I applaud you for the research time and effort in bringing this to the fore. We do need more storytellers and preservation of untold legacy that the Westerners (myself included) are still in la-la land about.

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    • Didan Ashanta

      Thanks, Jazuri. Hopefully, we’ll create more resources to keep our children and grandchildren out of la-la-land. 🙂

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