The transmission of power within African royalties

Heir princess Poku of the Asante empire and her son Kwaku
Heir princess Poku of the Asante empire and her son Kwaku

Before the introduction of Islam, the accession to the throne in the African kingdoms and empires was generally based upon the matriarchal system which prevailed in the black world. This system postulates that women are the foundation of the family. Within our non-nomad and farming societies, women farm and look after the food, women give birth and raise children. In doing so, women worth more, economically speaking than men.

This is why the latter gives a dowry during the wedding in order to compensate his symbolic economic inferiority. They also represent the family legitimacy and children identify themselves according to their mother first. The new born child is under the protection of their mother through the guardianship of the mother’s brother. The uncle makes sure the child is attached to his sister’s family as for the education and the legacy.

The power actually belongs to women. In doing so, because women are physically inferior, they cannot access directly to the throne as the sovereign must indeed also be a military chief in order to face wars. So, women delegate their power to their sons, who become the effective rulers. However they keep a considerable influence as Queen Mothers and counselors of highest importance.

If the son rules, the daughter inherits the legitimacy. That way, most of the time, the king rules with his mother or his sister by his side. When the king passes away, his nephew, the son of his sister, succeeds him on the throne. The new king would be raised by his uncle in order to succeed him. The new king also fulfils his mother’s power. This way, the power goes from mother to daughter and is fulfilled by their respective sons.

Pharaoh Pepi II and his mother Ankhnes-Mariri (Brooklyn Museum). Already a king, Pepi II is shown as a little boy under the care of the Queen-Mother
Pharaoh Pepi II and his mother Ankhnes-Mariri (Brooklyn Museum). Already a king, Pepi II is shown as a little boy under the care of the Queen-Mother

Be it in the empire of ancient Ghana, in the empire of Mali in its early stages, in the empire of the Asante (current Ghana), with the Blacks of India who descend from Africa, the matriarchal transmission of the power was applicable. For example, in the empire of Asante (current Ghana), Osei Tutu succeeded his uncle Obiri Yeboa. Opoku Ware succeeded his uncle Osei Tutu.

And Kwaku who is Opoku Ware’s nephew should succeed the latter. If his mother Poku hadn’t runned away to Ivory Coast to allow a part of the Asante people a forced exodus, he would have become king. That way, the power would have gone from Osei Tutu’s mother to her daughter, Poku’s mother, then to Poku.

In the ancient kingdom of Kuba in the current Democratic Republic of Congo, it was the eldest woman of the royal clan who used to hold the power. She had the power to dismiss the king. And the king himself used to be succeeded by his sister’s son. In Madagascar, in the early times of the Merina kingdom, the king was designed to be succeeded by the son of his sister.

Maâtkare Hatshepsut, pharaoh of the the 18th Egyptian dynasty,. This black woman is the most powerful female ruler of the antiquity
Maâtkare Hatshepsut, pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, grand-daughter of Akhotpu and daughter of Yahmesu. This black woman is the most powerful female ruler of the antiquity; Museum of fine Arts, Boston

Hatchepsout accessed to the throne in the same circumstances in Egypt. She was crowned by her father Djehuty-Mesu Kha-mi-Re (Thutmose I). As the grand-daughter of the queen Akhotpu and daughter of the queen Yahmesu (it all sounds like we’re in Ivory Cost), Hatchepsout had more death duties than her brother and husband Djehuty-Mesu Neferkhawu (Thutmose II).

When the latter passed away, she took advantage of the fact that the appointed successor Djehuty-Mesu Neferkheperu (Thutmosé III) was too young to access to the throne, so she naturally became the ruler. It was 3000 years before the queens of the Tudor’s dynasty in England.

Here Per aha (pharaoh) weds his sister because the child who would be born from this union would benefit from a double legitimacy of being the heir’s son (woman) and the son of the latter’s brother (Per aha himself). Pharaoh Imanahotep Hekawaset (Amenhotep III) refused to give his daughters to marry to foreign kings, fearing that the children born could claim the Egyptian throne. But he was taking foreign wives freely.

The same happened in the kingdom of Mwene Mutapa or Monomotapa – current Zimbabwe-Botswana-Mozambique-South Africa – where the Mwene Mutapa (emperor) weds his own sister – from same mother and same father – and the Queen-Mother adjusts the ceremony. The Mwene Kongo (emperor of Kongo) also weds his sister.

As for the Egyptian nineteenth dynasty, it was started by Pa-Ramesu (Rameses I), who, along with his wife, was not from royal lineage. Their son Suti Mery-n-Ptah (Sethi I) legitimated his power by taking for wife a real Egyptian princess, Mut Tuya. Their son Ramesu Maryimana (Rameses II) was seen as absolutely legitimate for being Mut Tuya’s son, who was a very influential queen mother during his reign.

For the Zulu people, the transmission of the power also had a matriarchal essence, as noticed for the divisions that preceded Shaka’s accession to the throne after his father Senzangakhona kaJama. Shaka kaSenzangakhona was the first son. But his position of heir was compromised after his father had other sons with wives of higher social ranking than his mother Nandi. Shaka later managed to conquer the throne thanks to his exceptional warrior qualities to the detriment of his brothers.

Shaka kaSenzangakhona Zulu and his mother Nandi Source : Shaka, a film by William Faure
Shaka kaSenzangakhona and his mother Nandi
Source : Shaka Zulu, a film by William C. Faure


By : Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

Notes :

  • L’Unité culturelle d’Afrique Noire (The Cultural Unity of Black Africa), Cheikh Anta Diop.
  • L’Afrique noire précoloniale (Pre colonial Black Africa), Cheikh Anta Diop.
  • Antériorité des civilisations nègres (Anteriority of negro civilizations), Cheikh Anta Diop.
  • Afrique noire, démographie, sol & histoire (Black Africa, demograhy, land & history), Louise Marie Diop-Maes.
  • Chaka, by Thomas Mofolo.
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