At Our Ancestories, we have always been inspired to teach children about African heroes and heroines. To tell them stories of real legends to help kids understand the depth of African history. Through their stories, kids learn about the continent's beauty and traditions and instil a sense of cultural pride and appreciation.
In this week's post, we wanted to narrow down 10 African heroes and heroines from ancient African history to teach your kids. This list is by no means exhaustive; it is just our top 10. There are several other incredible African legends not on our list!
We hope these stories will allow your kids to see Africa as part of a larger story-one that spans centuries.
So without further ado, let us delve in!
1. Amanirenas - Queen of the Kingdom Kush
Queen Amanirenas was an amazing warrior queen. She was the ruler of Kush, a kingdom in what is now Sudan. While she was queen, she led her armies against the Roman Empire in a war that lasted five years (from 25 BCE to 21 BCE). She was able to do what other male rulers were unable to; she prevented the Roman invasion of her kingdom.
Queen Amanirenas lost one eye during battle. This might have been a setback for most people, but not for this fearless warrior queen. Despite her handicap, she was even more determined to lead her people and make them strong. When Strabo, a Greek historian, met her, he said that she had "courage above that of her gender."
She built pyramids and temples at Wad Ban Naqa, where she was buried with great treasures.
2. Amina - Queen of the Zazzau Kingdom
Queen Amina is a fascinating figure in the history of the Hausa people in Nigeria. She was born in the 16th century. She lived in what is now Zaria City in Kaduna State, Nigeria.
Queen Amina was the first woman to become the queen in a male-dominated society. She was a skilful Hausa warrior and commanded a large army.
She was a fearless warrior queen who ruled Zazzau kingdom for 34 years. She is known for her conquests, which expanded her kingdom's territory. She also opened up trade routes and initiated several other notable cultural changes that are still felt today.
3. Ezana - King of the Aksum Kingdom
King Ezana was one of the most well-known kings to rule Aksum, a wealthy kingdom in African history. The kingdom of Aksum was in present-day Ethiopia.
During his reign, Ezana expanded the borders to include parts of Sudan and Somalia. He also encouraged trade with Greek merchants who came to Aksum, where they traded in gold, shells, spices and ivory.
Under king Ezana's rule, literature flourished as well. The Ge’ez language became independent of Sabaean and was used more often in writing than before.
Lastly, Christianity was introduced during his reign, which resulted in Ethiopia becoming one of the oldest Christian kingdoms in the world.
4. Hatshepsut - Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt
Hatshepsut was a woman who knew what she wanted, and she was not afraid to go after it. She was the first female pharaoh in Egypt, who reigned in her right from 1473–58 BCE.
The story goes that she acted as a regent queen for her stepson, Thutmose III, who was too young to rule on his own at the time. In the first few years. Hatshepsut complied and was an entirely conventional regent. However, by the end of his regnal year, she had been crowned as king. Hatshepsut and Thutmose III agreed and were co-rulers of Egypt, but Hatshepsut was the dominant king.
Despite her controversial grab for power, her reign was significant with peace and prosperity. She took on ambitious building projects: the greatest being the temple at Deir el-Bahri.
5. Idia - Queen Mother of the Benin Kingdom
Idia was one of the most powerful women in the Benin kingdom's history. The Benin Kingdom was in present-day Nigeria. She was the wife to king Ozolua. When Ozolua passed on: his sons, Esigie and Arhuaran, went to war over who would rule the kingdom.
Idia supported her son, Esigie, in the war by leading the army into battle. She provided political counsel and military strategies during the war. Idia also employed her medicinal knowledge and mystical powers to help him.
Illustration of Idia the warrior queen from our children's book, Idia of the Benin Kingdom.
Esigie won the war and became king of the Benin kingdom. Idia was credited with her son's victory. Esigie created a new position, which was queen mother. With this role, Idia enjoyed significant political privileges and power.
6. Imhotep- Vizier to the King Djoser
Imhotep was a polymath from ancient Kemet (also known as Egypt). He was the vizier (chief minister) to king Djoser.
As the vizier, one of his tasks was building the Djoser's tomb. Imhotep devised a way of stacking mastabas to create a pyramid. He built the famous step pyramid of Djoser, which is still standing today. Historians believe that it is due to the pyramid of Djoser that we now have the famous pyramids at Giza.
Imhotep was the first architect in the world. Illustration from our children's book, Imhotep of Ancient Kemet.
Imhotep was also the founder of Egyptian medicine. Ancient Egyptians believed Imhotep was the inventor of healing. He wrote down how he treated his patients. Some scholars state that he contributed to
Edwin Smith Papyrus. The Edwin Smith Papyrus was a book which contained 48 different illnesses and how to heal them.
He also introduced the construction of stone columns in ancient Egypt. He discovered that placing columns close together allowed people to have taller, more spacious houses.
7. Mansa Musa - Emperor of the Mali Kingdom
Mansa Musa was the emperor (also known as Mansa) of the Mali empire. He expanded the kingdom and acquired new territories. He also introduced a tax system where people paid taxes.
Additionally, the Mali empire was located strategically and controlled essential trading routes. As a result, this made the Mali empire extremely wealthy. The empire grew to its highest heights under Mansa Musa's reign.
Mansa Musa is well known for his wealth. He is said to be the richest person to have ever lived in modern history. In the year 1324, the king made his Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He carried with him gold, which he generously gave away. His generosity led to crippling economies, especially Egypt. It took Egypt 12 years to recover!
8. Njinga - Queen of Ndongo and Matamba
Queen Njinga was a remarkable woman! She ruled over 2 kingdoms, Ndongo and Matamba, in present-day Angola.
Portrait of Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
She was a skilled negotiator and successfully negotiated with the Portuguese to stop the slave raids in exchange for establishing trading routes for the Portuguese.
She was an astute diplomat: she changed religions as a show of good faith to the Portuguese. She was baptized as a Catholic and even changed her name.
Once the Portuguese failed to hold up their end of the deal, she led her people to war. She was a visionary military leader and fought off the Portuguese invasion for 30 years!
9. Shaka - King of the Zulu Kingdom
Shaka was the founder of the Zulu Kingdom in present-day Southern Africa. He was a great Zulu king and conqueror.
Once Shaka formed the Zulu kingdom, he began reorganizing the forces of his people. He created a military system following ideas he had developed as a warrior. The development of the military state resulted in an organized and centralized state. Additionally, it had a positive impact on the economic state of the kingdom.
In addition to restructuring his army, Shaka also changed how people lived under his rule. He established new rules for marriage and family life, outlawed polygamy, and made it illegal for young men to marry before undergoing military training.
10. Sunjata - Founder and First Emperor of the Mali Kingdom
Sunjata was the first Mansa, or emperor, of the Mali kingdom. He founded the Mandé Empire around 1240.
Sunjata led a strong army into the Battle of Kirina, in which, he defeated the ruler of Sosso, King Soumaoro Kanté. After the Battle of Kirina, Sunjata united 12 towns. They became known as the Twelve Doors of Mali.
He formed a new government to make important decisionsand laws in the kingdom. During his reign, Sunjata proclaimed the first-ever charter of human rights: the Mande Empire.The reign of Sunjata was synonymous with peace, prosperity, and freedom. Illustration from our children's book, Sunjata of the Mandé Empire.
As you can see, there are many great heroes and heroines to teach your kids about—but we haven't even scratched the surface of African history! This list provides a solid overview of some of the greatest. Keep learning, and be sure to talk to your children about the African heroes.
Who would you add to the list?