Ndaté Yalla Mbodj: The African Queen Who Fought Against the French Colonization
Ndaté Yalla Mbodj was the last great Queen of Waalo; one of the four Wolof kingdoms of Senegambia located in what is known today as North-West Senegal. During her reign, she fought against French colonization and the Moorish invasion of her kingdom.
In the 19th century, the Wolof queens Ndaté Yalla and her sister Ndjeumbeut Mbodj were the most powerful women of the 19th century Senegambian dynastic history.
Ndaté Yalla, born in 1810 was the daughter of the powerful and controversial King of Waalo Brak Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj and the Lingeer mother Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj. Ndaté Yalla was the youngest daughter of King Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj to his first wife Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye.
Located in what is now Senegal and parts of Mauritania; the Waalo kingdom use to be one of the strongest and oldest kingdoms in Senegal. This magnificent Kingdom started existing around the 11th century. Before the invasion of the Arabs, the Waalo people practiced the matrilineal system which gave women equal rights and privileges as men.
Princess Ndaté Yalla Mbodj became Queen of the Waalo (Wolof) Kingdom On October 1, 1846, after the demise of her older sister Queen Ndjeumbeut Mbodj; who had ruled since she was a teenager after the death of their father King Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj
Even though her ascension to the throne was not hard; her rule fast became a tireless one in her determination to preserve what was left of the kingdom while protecting her people from the French, Arabs and Moors, who wanted to take their lands and totally colonize the kingdom. Despite being an overwhelming task, Queen Ndaté was able to lead her military into a successful battle.
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Queen Ndaté Yalla Mbodj’s first Major Task as a Queen
Queen Ndaté Yalla Mbodj’s first task as Queen was to oppose the free passage of the Sarakolé people. She did this by sending a letter to the governor expressing her willingness to defend her sovereignty. According to Afrolegends, part of the letter read:
“We guarantee and control the passage of cattle in our country and we will not accept it the other way. Each leader governs his country as he pleases”
By the 1850s, the Moors had started to encroach on the Waalo Kingdom which deeply angered the Queen. Aside from the Moors’ encroachment, the French were also taking control over trade and systems in the Kingdoms. This caused several locals and sub-chiefs to lose their power. The French were a strong force led by Louis Faidherbe who later became the governor of Saint Louis.
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In 1855, Queen Ndaté was faced with a French army of over 1500 men who planned to take over her Kingdom, dethrone her and colonize the Waalo Kingdom.
Prior to the French invasion , the Queen had led several successful battles against both the Moors and the French and although her army made up of both males and females were small, the determined Queen led them against the French invaders.
Before going to war, the Queen gave a speech to her army saying:
“Today, we are invaded by the conquerors. Our army is in disarray. The tiedos of the Waalo, as brave warriors as they are, have almost all fallen under the enemy’s bullets. The invader is stronger than us, I know, but should we abandon the Waalo to foreign hands?” “This country is mine alone!”
Senegal War of Resistance
The Queen’s brave army was no match for the French and she lost the first battle. Her loss didn’t make her retreat or give up. Instead, she led her troop back and they restrategized for battle.
She led her army to sneak up on the French and defeat them. A victory that started the Senegal War of Resistance which continued way into the 20th century.
Queen Ndaté was successful in fighting off the Moors and Arabs and her battle led to the creation of Senegambia.
Her victory would forever change the trajectory of her reign. And the geopolitical, military, and geographical road map of Senegambia, “Ganaar” (now called Mauritania), Mali (formerly called French Sudan), and Fouta.
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The Queen was later Captured
Queen Ndaté Yalla was later captured by the French and exiled to the north of Senegal in Ndimb where she died in 1860.
Her son Sidya was captured as a hostage in Saint-Louis by General Faidherbe during their bloody war with Ndate and was baptized ‘Leone’ and sent to Algiers for schooling in 1861.
When he returned to Senegal two years later in 1863, he joined the French colonial army ( he was the first African or Senegalese to hold such a post). But as the saying goes —like mother, like son. He refused to join forces with the European colonial foreigners against his mother’s kingdom.
So, he restrategized and joined forces with Lat Dior Diop and others. This wasn’t a good decision, as he was betrayed, captured by the colonial forces, and sent to exile in Gabon in 1878.
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, as a true ‘lingeer’, developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to reckon with in her reign. Her women’s army was similar to the “Amazon” women’s army of Benin, Behanzin’s fearless protective women’s army.
Up till today, the magnificent, Queen Ndaté Yalla Mbodj remains a symbol of resistance in Senegal. The famous statue of the Queen is found in Dagana, in north Senegal which was made in her honor.
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