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May 30, 2024

Know your history, know yourself

By MANI KEITA | April 3, 2014

I’ve always loved the History Channel. There is just something about seeing history come to life, and understanding the context of current events.

It is important to know your history because it gives you more guidance as to how to live a life of progress. You cannot know where you are going until you understand where you have been. In honor of that concept, this article will highlight some women of African history, and discuss how they navigated the social conduits of power.

Queen Nzinga, of what is now Angola, was a shrewd and ever-present queen. She moved to Matamba and while there began dressing as a man to prove herself as equal to her male peers. While in Matamba, she was able to divert the slave taxes from the Kongolese trade to herself. She worked hard to solidify the continuation of her bloodline of rulers by having her sister succeed her.

Another woman with administrative and profitable tendencies was the queen of queens: Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia.

Taytu was a strong-willed individual who did not entertain competition. She obtained her own stockyards, dairy farms, grain-storage facilities, beekeepers, beer makers, flour millers, cooks, and water carriers. She helped to transform Entoto, the now sacred mountain where Menelik II established his palace, into a self-sufficient paradise. Taytu was also very caring and giving to the peasants. As Menelik’s health faded she stood by his side and issued orders in his name. In any aspect, she showed a strong sense of adaptability to ensure that her and her people’s best interests were met.

Moving on, there are Thakene and Matlakala, of the Sotho peoples of southern Africa, who received visions as young girls. Both women became faith healers, curing illnesses through prayer and rituals, although they incorporated Christianity into their traditional practices.  Thakene and Matlakala attracted large masses of people suffering from seemingly incurable diseases. The two women also held considerable influence over the health practices of their followers.

Another powerful woman from African history is Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke (née Manye). Charlotte, a Christian born in the Boer Republic, was a member of the African Jubilee choir and performed in England and in the United States.  She used her affiliation with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church to enroll in college in the United States. As a result, she became the first documented African woman to graduate from a Western college. She and her husband, a fellow graduate from Wilberforce University in Ohio, used their connections with the AME Church to sponsor more students’ trips to America for educational purposes. Later on, Charlotte became more involved with the South African civil rights movement. Her involvement led to the formation of the Women’s League of the South African National Congress.

Krotoa (later baptized as Eva) was the niece of an influential Khoi leader and trader in southwestern Africa, and serves as a notable example of an African woman who took advantage of European presence in her native land. Her fluency in Dutch allowed her to work as a liaison and translator between the Dutch and Khoi people within the trading system, and she used the trust she had developed with two groups to secure her role as a peace negotiator and an ambassador for the chief. Eva’s ties to the Dutch allowed her to be a diplomat of sorts, giving her access to opportunities that she would have never had otherwise, like being a trader.

There are inspiring women in more recent African history, too. A prime example is Sibusisiwe of the Zulu tribe. She completed a teacher-training course at Adams College, and applied her training toward running her own night school. After attending several educational programs at American institutions, she became involved in community organization in South Africa. She created a youth group and, as a result, was able to combat Western influence by teaching her people to be proud of its culture, to strive for progress, and to take control of its resources.

Another woman who enhanced the organizational management of her country was Annie Jiagge. Jiagge was born in French Togoland (now Togo and the Volta region of Ghana). Her résumé is extremely impressive; it is clear that each of her positions opened up a myriad of opportunities for Jiagge to enact positive change for women in Ghana.

Jiagge served as a magistrate in Ghana near the time of its independence. She also served as a High Court Judge and become President of the Appeals Court. In 1968, Jiagge was chosen to represent Ghana in the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women. Later, she contributed to the draft of the Declaration of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which called for full equal rights for all women. By the 1990s, Jiagge was representing Ghana in the Women’s World of Banking. These are just a few examples of notable African women.

As an African woman, I am able to strengthen self-confidence by knowing my history. Learn your history and know that there is greatness in your roots as well.

 


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