Once upon a time Sarraounia… African Queen

Dernière mise à jour : 25 mars 2021

Discover the surprising story of Sarraounia Mangou, queen from Africa!

How did I know her story? It all started with a story of jewelry :)

During on of my stay in Senegal I discovered Adinkra jewels, a brand I had such a crush for that I wrote an article about it.

The designer at the origin of these magnificent jewels is called Sarraounia, a name I found very beautiful. And, of course, I wanted to know more about the meaning of this special name...

Med Hondo on Kelen, African event planner
Extract from the movie "Sarraounia, An African queen" by Med Hondo

Once upon a time Sarraounia…

An extremely famous figure in Niger, Queen Sarraounia embodies the resistance of Nigerians against the French colonization at the end of the 19th century. Forgotten by historians, she has been popularized by fiction and cinema which have relied on oral tradition to make this character of a warrior queen engaged in the defense of her land a major element of the Nigerian national narrative. A legendary queen of West Africa, Sarraounia Mangou reigned in the 19th century in southwestern Niger. She presided over the destiny of the animist population (the Aznas). In the Hausa language, "Sarraounia" means "queen. This is the title given to the political and religious leader of the community.

The Nigerian sovereign entered the legend for having opposed in the years 1898-1899 a tenacious resistance to the passage of a French colonial troop. For Nigerians, she symbolizes their fight against imperialism.

A determined Queen facing the Voulet and Chanoine mission...

The populations suffered appalling atrocities in all the areas they crossed between the former Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Niger. The objective of the French column, composed of seven officers and five hundred African riflemen, was to terrorize the natives in order to prevent any attempt at resistance. The Voulet and Chanoine mission, whose official name was Mission Afrique Centrale-Tchad, left thousands of dead in its wake. Houses were burned, prisoners were beheaded, young girls were raped, pregnant women were disembowelled, children were hung from trees at the entrance to villages, and food and livestock were looted. The two officers pushed their men to ever greater cruelty, as was the case in 1896, when the town of Ouagadougou was burned, accompanied by summary executions among the Mossi populations.

Warned by the terrifying stories that preceded the arrival of the infernal column, Sarraounia Mangou, queen of the Aznas communities in Hausa country, managed to convince the hunters and warriors of Lougou, her village, to try to stop this savage expedition that was decimating the country. As the French approached, she sent a messenger with these words:

"Go around my territory where you will find my warriors on your way".(source womanager.com)

The warrior queen did not succeed in stopping the French expansion but she had the merit of having slowed it down. In order to defend her state which she ended up making oppressors abandon despite their heavy artillery, Sarraounia Mangou showed bravery and courage by organizing resistance and by protecting the refugees in a forest known as impenetrable by the enemy.

Also, she continued to fight the  French troops long after the confrontation to the point of making them abandon her village which she recovered a week after the great battle.

The portrait of the resistant queen was built through oral accounts of the time. The writer Abdoulaye Mamani and the filmmaker Med Hondo, who respectively wrote a novelized biography of the Hausa sovereign (Sarraounia: le drame de la reine magicienne, L'Harmattan 1980) and a film on the same theme (Sarraounia, released in 1986), used this precious oral history to tell the story of the legendary destiny of this extraordinary character, mixing myth and historical reality (source RFI).

Abdoulaye Mamani sur Kelen, African event planner

Sarraounia: Le drame de la reine magicienne

By Abdoulaye Mamani

Editions l'Harmattan, 2000

(In French)

Med Hondo sur Kelen, African event planner

Sarraounia, an African Queen

Film by Med Hondo

Burkina Faso/France, 1986

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