Hidden Black History: 7 African Queens Who Have Made Their Mark

African Queens
Grace Jones's 2001 portrayal of Queen Nandi, one of the most legendary African queens in history. Image: Getty Images.

For decades, our community has drawn strength and empowerment from the understanding that we have a beautiful history outside of our collective enslavement and oppression. Black parents and elders frequently encourage younger generations to draw on the power of the great African kings and queens that we herald from. This narrative has become integral to our culture’s strength as well as our sense of pride, beauty and self-determination. But who are these Black royals that we speak about?

The history that has been presented to our people has been distinctly whitewashed, often omitting the documentation and portrayal of the profound effect ancient African leaders have had on the Mother Continent as well as within its surrounding regions. Because of this, it has become even more imperative that we, as a people, tell our own story and preserve our own heritage. Below, we highlight 8 dope African queens who were fierce in their own right and whose shoulders we proudly stand on today.

Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt

Egypt, 1353–36 BC

Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt
View of the bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, after it returned to Berlin’s Museum Island for the first time since World War II. Image: Oliver Lang/DDP/AFP/Getty Images

Queen Nefertiti, the wife of King Akhenaton, is one of the most well-known ancient queens. Her beauty and grace have become a standard bearer throughout history. Under her and her husband’s helm, they shifted the viewpoints of religion, influencing the practice in monotheism, the belief in only one God. Although her documented presence has been lost, her legacy is still respected and admired today.


Amina of Zaria

Nigeria, 1533-1610

Amina of Zaria
Illustration of Queen Amina. Image: Nigeria Galleria

Known as the “Warrior Queen,” Queen Amina is known as the first queen of a male-dominated society. She made history for expanding the territory of the North African Hausa people. Diverging from her father’s peaceful practices, Amina harnessed her arsenal of military skills with the Zazzau cavalry, later becoming their leader. After being appointed as ruler in 1576, she returned to the battle field and fought to her death in 1610.


Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti Empire

Present day Ghana, c.1840-1921

Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti Empire
Photograph of Yaa Asantewaa in the early 20th century. Image: Barbados Today

Queen Yaa Asantewaa was Queen Mother of the Ashanti Kingdom and was responsible for presiding over the Golden Stool, which established power, culture and stability within the land. As Queen Mother, she held the second highest position within the empire. Her leadership and advocacy of women in power permeated throughout the kingdom, challenging archaic gender roles.


Kandake Amanirenas of the Kingdom of Kush

Egypt, c. 40 BC – c. 10 BC

Kandake Amanirenas of the Kingdom of Kush
Ancient bust of Kandake Amanirenas. Image: Blackpast/ Sven-Steffen Arndt.

Queen lKandake Amanirenas’ legacy was cemented due to her skillful defense against the Roman empire. She was the second of the eight Kandakes, or Queen Mothers of the ancient African Kingdom of Kush (which is now South Sudan). Her heroism and leadership is well-documented in ancient hieroglyphics.


Ana Nzinga of Mbande Ndogo

Angola, 1583-1663

Ana Nzinga of Mbande Ndogo
Colorized illustration of Mbundu Queen Ana Nzinga wearing a royal robe and crown. Image: Science Source/Photo Researchers History/Getty Images

A politician, diplomat and military leader, Queen Nzinga was monumental in her land’s (now known as Angola) resistance of Portuguese influence, which prevented excessive slave raids. Due to her eloquence as a negotiator, she developed a robust roster of allies and successfully worked toward the liberation of Angola until her death in the 17th century.

Nandi of the Zulu Kingdom

Zulu Nation, 1760-1827

Nandi of the Zulu Kingdom
Painting of Queen Nandi. Image: Pinterest/ @8sights4sounds

Queen Nandi is the mother of the notable warrior and Zulu king Shaka Zulu. She raised her son to be the legendary champion that he became to be. Although she was shamed for having her son out of wedlock, she became an advisor to the king and Queen of Zululand. She is lovingly referred to as a great leader as her son. To this day, she is deeply revered and admired on the Mother Continent.


Makeda of Ethiopia (or the Queen of Sheba)

Ethiopia, c. 10th Century BCE

Makeda of Ethiopia
Bust of the Queen of Sheba. Image: IMDB

The Queen of Sheba was first referenced in the Hebrew bible and later in the Islamic Qur’an. Although not much is know or has been verified about her existence, she was known for her splendid gifts and intelligence. Her union with King Solomon in the Hebrew Bible established an extremely powerful rule.

Newsletter

Sign up for the EBONY Newsletter

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.

Newsletter

Sign up for the EBONY Newsletter

When you sign up for the EBONY newsletter, you’ll be the first to know about all the latest news and updates that are important to you. Gain access to exclusive interviews, videos, special events, and product giveaways delivered right to your inbox!

By subscribing, you agree to share your email address with EBONY to receive our weekly emails, events, and other updates. Please see our privacy policy for more information.