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Monday, December 21, 2009



For many thousands of years the African woman has been worshiped, revered and idolized by individuals, families and nations--not only in Africa but around the world. Ancient records show her as queen, goddess, scholar, diplomat, scientist, icon, prophet and freedom fighting warrior exalted with and sometimes above her father, husband and brothers. The African woman has administered great and mighty nations, led determined and capable armies into battle and founded splendid and enduring royal dynasties. Indeed, no other human of any racial or ethnic type has been so widely venerated as has the African woman. This brief essay, therefore, is intended as a secure African man's historical recognition, tribute and salute to the prominence, grandeur and majesty of African women.


Of all the countries of ancient times it is Kmt (Ancient Egypt) that stands out above all others. Kmt was indeed the heart and soul of early Africa. When we examine Kemetic civilization we note what is perhaps the proudest achievement in the whole of human annals. It is therefore proper that we look first at the role and stature of African women in Kmt in the Valley of Nile.

First things first--Kmt was African; not only her origins, but from the very beginning and through the great part of the pharaonic period African people endowed with dark complexions, full lips, broad noses and tightly curled hair were overwhelmingly dominant in both the general population and the ruling elite. Ancient Kmt was Africa par excellence.

It has been noted that the most significant single fact to keep in mind when discussing the topic of women and leadership in ancient Kmt is that there was basic equality between men and women. Women of the ancient Kemetic royal families enjoyed considerable influence and freedom of movement, and occupied positions of great power and authority. There is not a single recorded incident of sexual assault or domestic abuse against an African woman in the entire history of Kmt. Kemetic women inherited and willed fortunes, wrote love poems, introduced legislation at the courts of law and commanded the respect of king and commoner alike.


Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, participated actively in the expulsion from Kmt of the Hyksos--Kmt's first invaders and occupiers. Ahmose-Nefertari was born royal heiress and became one of Africa's most brilliant queens. After the twenty-five year reign of Ahmose I, Nefertari governed jointly with her son Amenhotep I. The veneration of Ahmose-Nefertari continued for more than six-hundred years after her death. To her memory was attached a special priesthood, who recited in her honor a prayer only used in addressing the gods.

Ahmose-Nefertari was given considerable authority in the cult of the King of the Gods when she was made "God's Wife of Amen," a position that held a chief role as a priestess in the national religious center, and was provided with goods and property legally documented and published for all to see on a monumental stela set up in the Temple of Amen at Karnak. Her royal titles included the exceptional "Female Chieftain of Upper and Lower Kmt."

Makare Hatshepsut's twenty-one year reign occurred near the zenith of Kmt's second golden age. This was an era marked by great internal stability and international prestige. One of the Hatshepsut's proudest achievements was a highly successful expedition to the African land of Punt--regarded by the Kamites as "God's land." Hatshepsut's royal titles included: "King of the North and South, Son of the Sun, The Heru of Gold, Bestower of Years, Goddess of Risings, Conqueror of all Lands, Lady of both Lands, Vivifier of Years, Chief Spouse of Amen, the Mighty One."

Queen Tiye was the beloved wife of Nebmare Amenhotep III, and the mother of Akhenaten and Tutankhamen. Tiye is one of the most interesting figures in history. Amenhotep and Tiye married while quite young and shared one of the great love affairs of the ages. That she was of great ability and powerful influence is proved by association with her husband in all of his ceremonial records. She was such an integral part of Kamite affairs that on more than one occasion foreign sovereigns appealed to her directly in matters of international significance. The surviving portraits of Tiye show her with distinct African features.

Queen Nefertari was "The Beautiful Companion" of Ramses II. Her two major titles were "King's Great Wife and "Mistress of the Two Lands." After her death, Nefertari was worshipped as a divine Osirian, or a soul which has become deified. Under the attributes of Asr (Osiris), Kmt's lorder of the dead, she was adored as a goddess. Queen Nefertari's body was housed in a 5,200 square foot tomb decorated with vivid wall paintings--the most splendid in the Valley of the Queens--"The Place of Beauty." Her tomb paintings and inscriptions depict Nefertari as a woman of great charm and exquisite taste, adorned with magnificent jewelry and wearing fashionable gowns.

Queen Istnofret, another distinguished African woman, was a contemporary of Nefertari, and was elevated to the position of Great Royal Wife upon Nefertari's death. Queen Istnofret was the mother of Prince Ramses (Senior King's Son). Prince Khaemwaset (one of the most brilliant men of the Ramesside era) and Prince Merneptah--who eventually succeeded his father as King. Queen Istnofret died in approximately year 24 of Ramses II's reign.


Although it was extremely prominent, Kmt (Ancient Egypt) was only one of many great African nations where women held high positions. Makeda, for example, the semi-legendary Queen of Sheba (Saba), is thought to have lived during the tenth century B.C.E. This woman had all the qualities of an exceptional monarch, and appears to have ruled over a wealthy domain encompassing parts of both Africa and Arabia. She is called Makeda in the Ethiopian text known as the Kebra Negast, Bilqis in the Koran, and the Queen of Sheba in the Bible. The three of these documents provide a relatively clear picture of a highly developed state distinguished by the pronounced overall status of women. Makeda was not an isolated phenomenon. Many times, in fact, do we hear of important women in African and Arabian history; the documents they are mentioned in providing no commentary on husbands, consorts or male relatives. Either their deeds or inheritance, perhaps both, enabled them to stand out quite singularly.

Dahia al-Kahina of Mauritania was especially active in the North African resistance to the Arab invasions that occurred at the end of the seventh century. About 690 she assumed personal command of the African forces, and under her aggressive leadership the Arabs were briefly forced to retreat. The Arab invaders of Africa were relentless, however, and as the African plight deteriorated, the dauntless Kahina ordered a scorched earth policy. The effects of the devastation can still be seen in the North African countryside. According to tradition, Kahina eventually took her own life rather than admit defeat to the Arabs. With her death ended a magnificent attempt to preserve Africa for the Africans.

Queen Nzingha, also known as Ann Nzingha, was overlord of portions of both Angola and Zaire. She has been called the "greatest military strategist that ever confronted the armed forces of Portugal." Nzingha's military campaigns kept the Portuguese in Africa at bay for more than four decades. Her objective was nothing less than the complete and total destruction of the African slave trade. Nzingha sent ambassadors throughout West and Central Africa with the intent of enlisting a huge coalition of African armies to eject the Portuguese. Queen Nzingha died fighting for her people in 1663 at the ripe old age of eighty-one. Africa has known no greater patriot.

In summary, and in the words of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, "The first accomplishment of the African woman, in partnership with the man, was the creation of a functioning family unit. This major step in human development laid the foundations of the organization of all subsequent societies and institutions. In Africa the woman's `place' was not only with her family. She often ruled nations with unquestioned authority."

Copyright © Africa Resource Center, Inc., 1999 - .

Today Nubian Women

Much has changed since the warrior queens of the Meroitic period struck fear into the cold hearts of the Romans. The Nubian civilization has become less defined and separate. The Nubians of today have been dispersed throughout Egypt and the Sudan because of the flooding of their homeland. Outside influences have made the impact of their past seem a bit more distant. It is difficult to determine what to make of the Nubian woman of today.

Nubians have a largely agricultural society. This fact, coupled with the largely disproportionate number of women to men, has led to the continuation of the matrilineal society. Relations are strongest on the side of the mother; some families go so far as to have the son take on the name of his mother (47).

Since the sex ratio is so great, women tend to dominate the culture of present day Nubian life due to sheer numbers alone (48). The importance of women in culture is just as great; but the roles have changed. Today's Nubian woman has no great Queen to look to; nor do they have a religion based on the worship of the all-knowing mother figure. But, what Nubian women do have is a chance that there ancestors never had. With the last period of resettlement, some Nubian women have decided to move to the cities of Egypt and the Sudan (49). Of course, their standard of living may not increase, but this shows an independence unheard of among the common women of the ancient period.

Expecting all Nubian women to live up to the strong Queens of their past is a bit much. Nevertheless, there must be an impact on the lives of the descendants of these Queens. Perhaps the small steps toward independence by the Nubian woman of today shows a courage beyond their sex. In any case, the unique roles of the women of ancient Nubia revel a unique and startling strength in both the women and the culture

Role of Women in Nubia

Nubia is an area of scholarship that was largely overlooked in favor of its splendid neighbor, Egypt. Past finds in the area were attributed to Egypt; current excavation of the area is impossible because of Egypt's construction of the High Aswan Dam. However, renewed interest in Africa- brought on largely by Afrocentric scholars such as Cheikn Anta Diop - has resulted in a proliferation of scholarly work on ancient Nubia.

Much of the scholarly work up to this point is dealing with the massive archeological digs that occurred just prior to the building of the High Aswan Dam. As a result of this work, the amount of available information on Nubia has increased immeasurably. Evidence has emerged that shows a people who, after decades of colonization by the Egyptians, rose above and established themselves as a force to be dealt with in Africa. Nubians developed a culture and people distinctly different from the Egyptians.

After preliminary investigation into the area of ancient Nubia, a striking contrast emerged. The Nubians has an unusually high number of ruling queens, especially during the golden age of the Meroitic Kingdom (1). Although ruling queens, in themselves, may not be unusual, the portrayal of Nubian queen is exceptional. A panel on display at the exhibit "Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa" showed the queen smiting her enemies. This type of representation has no equivalent in either Egyptian or Western Art (2). This unusual find has led to research in the role of the women in Nubian society, both past and present. The result has been a surprising contrast between the docile Nubian woman of today and the warrior queen of ancient times.

A History of Nubia*
In modern day Africa, Nubia would be a five-hundred mile long stretch of land along the Nile river that is one-third in modern day Egypt and two- thirds in the modern day Sudan (3). The kingdom of Ancient Nubia began a bit before the first cataract and extended past the sixth cataract to Khartoum (4). As with the Egyptians, the fertile Nile valley gave rise to the civilization of Nubia.

The first Nubian age spanned from 3100 to 1000 B.C. This Bronze Age contained three cultures:

A-Group, C-Group, and the Kerma culture (5). The latter of the three, Kerma, existed in the Upper Nile. These people developed a strong trading culture that traded to both Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean (6). During this period, the Egyptians called this area "Kush." Kush was the general term for Upper Nubia and was considered to be a province of Nubia (7). The A-Group and C-Group cultures are those that existed in the Lower Nile. For most of the early part of their history, these cultures were dominated by Egypt.

The period of 1550 B.C. to 1100 B.C. marked the colonization of Nubia by Egypt. By the Eighteenth Dynasty, Egypt had control over Lower and Upper Nubia, while Southern Nubia remained independent (8). The Egyptians began to call "Lower Nubia the land of Wawat and Upper
*Note: For the purposes of this paper, Nubia refers to the entire region between the first and fifth cataracts. Therefore, any reference to Kush, considered to be a Nubian province, would be considered part of Nubia in general. Nubia the land of Kush" (9). This colonization resulted in the disappearance of a particular Nubian C-Group; these peoples began to adopt Egyptian culture in favor of their own (10). This colonization was especially bitter as it occurred during the reign of Tutankhamen who was the son of a Nubian woman (11).

Soon after the Twentieth Dynasty in Egypt, the Egyptians lost control over Nubia and the land was plunged into a dark age. Around 900 B.C., evidence of a Nubian monarchy begins to emerge. Since this monarchy begins in Upper Nubia, it was often known as the Kingdom of Kush (12). These early rulers were buried in tumulus - a distinctly Nubian tradition. This ceremony has led many to believe that the Kushite Kings were of Nubian ancestry (13). By 770 B.C., these kings were extending their rule to the North. In Nubian history, the period is commonly called the Napatan Period (named for the royal capital of the time). Soon, Nubians "paid back the insult by subjugating the 'all powerful' nation" of Egypt to Nubian control. (14). The Kings now wore the crown of the double cobra - signifying the unity of both Egypt and Nubia (15).

After 295 B.C., a shift in royal capitals from Napatan to Meroe is made for unknown reasons. Some scholars hypothesize that the Kingdom of Kush wished to gain control over Egyptian trade. The problem of determining the reason for the move is made all the more difficult by the beginning of the use of a distinctly Nubian language. This language is based upon the heiroglyphs of the Egyptians, but since no version of it is spoken today and there has not been an effective translation of the language, much of what is written in this Meroitic language remains a mystery. During this time (around 23 B.C.) Egypt fell into Roman control. The Romans attempted to make Nubia pay tribute to them. This led to the first confrontation between Nubia and the Romans. The Meroitic Period proved to be one of tremendous resistance to the forces acting on Africa at the time. Much of this resistance came at the hands of the number of ruling queens during the period. However, by the middle of the fourth century A.D., the Meroitic Period collapsed (16). Two reasons are generally attributed to this: First, that Nomads of the desert made travel overland difficult, and Second, that the rise of the Axumite Kingdom of Abyssinia cause a collapse of the Kushite economy. In any case, the Meroitic empire was no longer in existence by A.D. 320 (17).

Soon after, the X-Group Period began in Nubia. This period was brusquely ended in 540 A.D. with the onslaught of Christianity. Missionary activities continued in the area until approximately A.D. 1550. After this time, the Nubian empire was completely dismantled. The Nubian people were left scattered throughout the fertile Nile valley; two-thirds within Egypt, one-third within the Sudan. With the construction of the High Dam at Aswan in the early 1960's, these peoples were displaced and moved elsewhere in Egypt (18). Although a systematic archeological investigation of the area was conducted, some of the questions that swirl around the kingdom of Nubia are forever lost as Nubia again becomes subject to Egyptian control.

It's Christmas time again!

Christmas as celebrated by Catholics and early Protestants a few hundred years ago was not the secular holiday we recognize today. It was a "Christes Maesee" (Old English for Christ's Mass) or Nativity service.

In 18th century England & America non-puritans who celebrated Christmas did so by churchgoing, holly in windows, caroling, mumming, some dancing, adult visiting and dinner parties featuring mince pie, fruitcake & other seasonal foods. Children and exchanging of gifts were not featured in Christmas celebration. Charles Dickens and the transformation of the Dutch Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus changed the spirit of Christmas.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the same year that the first Christmas card was published. Both the book and the card helped popularize the phrase "Merry Christmas". Dickens' popular book had an extremely powerful influence on undermining opposition to Christmas, especially among those influenced by Puritans in England and New England. Dickens used Scrooge to symbolize the idea that those who don't celebrate Christmas are uncharitable, twisted, mean-spirited and socially isolated. Dickens depicted Christmas as a one-day family event held in the home rather than a 12-day public holiday -- thus contributing to changing the way Christmas was celebrated. Central to the Dickens Christmas celebration was a lavish family dinner.

In 1957 Dr. Seuss reinforced the negative image of those who don't want to celebrate Christmas with his picture-book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch -- a nasty mountain hermit -- steals Christmas paraphernalia and plans to destroy it. But his heart is touched by the sound of Christmas carols, and he becomes transformed (as happened to Scrooge).

The World War I Christmas Truce of 1914 has often been romanticized as an example of how Christmas love can triumph over the savagery & killing of war. But it is no exaggeration to say that the occasion of Christmas evoked shared sentiments, empathy and goodwill among the British & German troops who enjoyed the relief of fraternizing from the stress of shooting & dodging shells.

Gallop polls have shown that over 90% of Americans regard Christmas to be their favorite holiday. Many love the fun of giving and receiving presents. Christmas has become, above all, a celebration of family. For most, the feelings of sharing, togetherness and love experienced at Christmas-time is a special joy. But the expectations some family members project upon other members often have the character of "familial moral duty". The season thus frequently occasions reopening old hurts and conflicts. This forces many people to re-examine their lives, especially because Christmas is a period which interrupts routing daily living. Resolutions for the New Year are often the result.