Yennenga, 12th century Founding mother of burkina faso
The Dagomba tribe of Northern Ghana in West Africa has a longstanding tradition of oral histories. Often these exciting tales of heroes and heroines are told against the backdrop of pounding drums and dancing revelers, galvanizing the story within the hearts of all who hear it. One such narrative record is the tale of Yennenga, founding mother of Burkina Faso.
In the land now known as Northern Ghana, there once lived a great king of the Dagomba tribe who had a daughter with unmatched beauty, skills, and knowledge. As was always the case with ruling a kingdom, wars were inevitable as rivals would always seek better land for crops, or to force their ways upon another tribe. King Nedega soon found his multi-talented, fourteen-year-old daughter, Yennenga, joining his troops against the neighboring Malinkes. The Malinke, or Mandinkos, repeatedly made war against the Dagomba tribe in attempts to convert them to the Islam religion sweeping through Africa.
Yennenga’s skill with the javelin, and bow, as well as her grand horsemanship abilities, were the talk of all the kingdom and it was not long before she was in charge of her own battalion of men. But being great at everything apparently has its drawbacks. Yennenga’s father revered her so much for her skills and knowledge in protecting the kingdom from its neighbors that when she reached marrying age and informed him of her desire to marry and have children, his immediate response was a resounding NO. He refused to arrange a husband as was the tradition of their tribe.
Yennenga’s courageous heart led her to retaliate against the King’s oppression of her dreams. She grew a beautiful field of wheat and showed it proudly to her father. He was pleased without measure to see another thing touched by his lovely daughter become golden; his good fortune had no end when it came to her. Yennenga abandoned the wheat and let it rot. When her father saw the ugly decay, he was enraged. He demanded she explain her neglect of the field and why she left it to rot. Yennenga told him she was the same as the golden field left to decompose because he would not allow her to marry and have a child.
King Nadega was furious at his daughter’s impertinence and had Yennenga locked away in prison.
With a history of fighting many battles beside the king’s warriors and developing a comradeship with them, Yennenga had many friends among the king’s forces. One night, one such friend helped her escape. He brought her some men’s clothing for disguise her stallion to ride, and they sped away. The Malinke tribe north of the Dagomba region attacked Yennanga and her fellow rider. Although she managed to get away, her companion was killed in the skirmish.
Yennanga continued to ride her steady and swift stallion northward. When she came to a river with strong currents, she guided the horse across and emerged on the other side totally exhausted. Her faithful equine carried her into a lush forest where she met an elephant hunter by the name of Riale who saw through her disguise as a man and they immediately fell in love.
The elephant hunter Riale and the Princess Yannenga were married straight away and before long had a son they named Ouedraogo (O-a-dray-goo), which translates to stallion. Ouedraogo is to this day a common name in the Mossi kingdom.
When he was grown, Ouedraogo visited his grandfather, the king of Dagomba, who was very happy to finally hear of his daughter’s good health and success. He showered his grandson with many gifts which Ouedraogo would use to establish the Mossi kingdom in the land now known as Burkina Faso, West Africa. Because of this, Yenninga is celebrated as the founding Queen Mother of Burkina Faso. There are statues of her in the capital city of Ouagadougou (Wagoo-Do-goo), many roads named in her honor, and a football team named The Stallions, after her strong and swift horse.
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Click to access Yennega%2C%20Princess%20of%20Gambaga_Women%20in%20African%20History_Comic%20Strip.pdf
Tschannen, Rafiq A., and Rafiq A. Tschannen says: “Islam in West Africa. Introduction, Spread and Effects.” The Muslim Times, 26 Aug. 2020, themuslimtimes.info/2020/08/26/islam-in-west-africa-introduction-spread-and-effects/.
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