Kings and Queens: 5 Black Historians you may not have learnt about

Words by Charles Odugbesan

No more black trauma.

For years a lot of our entry points to black history has been through several instances of traumatic experience. How many of us have watched Roots in our History lessons in school? Or read books in English classes with subordinate yet prominent racial tensions? Pain and inferiority are the only concepts projected to young minds making their way through the education system in this country as it pertains to Black History. 

Television and film have also had an input. Netflix anyone? 12 Years A Slave, A Time To Kill, The Kalief Browder Story or When They See Us are a few movies and documentaries that spring to mind. The pictures painted are similar: many different depictions of the same insufferable oppression that often rears its ugly head to this day.

In no way can I discredit the relevance of any of the aforementioned. These are all important stories that must be brought to light! But seeing as a lot of us are taking this opportunity to further educate and explore our Black History, know that it was not all filled with deprivation and lowliness. There were many periods of sovereignty, a part of history that is often sought and not so wilfully offered in the western world. Here are 5 revered men and women in history well worth looking up!

KING AFONSO I OF THE KONGO (1456-1543)

The Kingdom of Kongo in the modern day would have covered parts of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Afonso who ruled from 1509 – 1543 was one of the first rulers to really modernise Africa during his time. He encouraged his people to develop skills in carpentry and agriculture, whilst establishing schools and aligning politics. Afonso was one of the first rulers tasked with resisting enslavement from the Portuguese Empire. Afonso passed in 1543 leaving his reign to his son Pedro.

KING SHAKA – KING OF THE ZULUS (1787-1828)

A Military innovator who boasted an army that struck fear into all opposition, King Shaka spent 12 years as the leader of the Zulu Kingdom. What started as a small tribe soon became and Empire, with Shaka uniting all tribes in South Africa against British colonials. In 1828, Shaka was assassinated by his half brothers after the death of his mother left him grief stricken and spiralling out of control. His half brother Dingane would subsequently take the reigns.

QUEEN YAA ASANTEWAA OF THE ASHANTI EMPIRE (1840-1921)

The true definition of a warrior queen. Yaa Asantewaa, appointed as Queen Mother by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpesi, was a strong leader with a remarkable ability to galvanise the minds of her people. She led the Ashanti rebellion against British Colonialism in the War of the Golden Stool in 1900, the fifth instalment of the Anglo-Ashanti wars that had spread across over 3/4 of the 19th Century. She was also a human rights activist who rallied for both the emancipation of women and gender equality amongst her people. Yaa Asantewaa’s name is not still highly regarded in modern day Ghana, but across the continent.

QUEEN NZINGHA OF NDONGO AND MATAMBA (1583-1663)

Queen Nzingha reigned over the two kingdoms that today would make up Northern Angola. Fighting for th liberation of her people in a similar fashion to King Afonso, Nzingha had waged her own war of resistance against the threat of control of the slave trade from Portugal, a resistance that would last for 30 of her 37 year reign. Conditioned to lead from a young age she used both her military and political training as her tools for success even gaining the support of Dutch alliances along the way and the admiration of many Europeans leaders.

HANNIBAL BARCA GENERAL COMMANDER OF THE CARTHAGINIAN ARMY (247 – 181 BC)

Often regarded as one of the greatest military leaders of all time, Hannibal Barca was the leader of the Carthaginian army who so famously came close to toppling the Roman Empire in The Second Punic War. He would claim famous victories over the Romans in Sanguntum, The Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae – for 15 years in fact, Hannibal would have the control of most of Southern Italy but would eventually succumb to a war of attrition, failing to claim a decisive victory in the war. Hannibal would take his own life in 181 BC, refusing to allow the Romans to decide his fate. Ancient Carthage is today know as Tunisia.

FUN FACT: Evidence of the war tactics of Hannibal have been emulated as recently as the Persian Gulf War in 1991

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