“If we as a people realized the greatness from which we came we would be less likely to disrespect ourselves” Marcus Garvey
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (from the cover of Kings and Queens of West Africa, by S. Diouf)
In 1855, when the French arrived to colonize Senegal, the first power of resistance they encountered was a woman. Her name was: Ndate Yalla Mbodj. While in France, women were not recognized as citizens until 90 years later, the French were stunned by this woman of beautiful stature, face, and strong body, and who headed an immense army. She was a beautiful and proud warrior, who inherited a rich tradition of bravery and gallantry.
Linguere or Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (1810 – 1860) was the last great queen of the Waalo, a kingdom in the northwest of modern-day Senegal and Gambia. This kingdom of ‘Waalo’ was in existence since 1287 A.D. and legendary figures like Ndiadiane Ndiaye have been associated with it by oral historians especially his epics, which historians still debate about, and mimic in folklore songs. This kingdom has been known and listed by oral historians to have had 60 or more kings and queens; and Ndate was the last to face the devil himself – General Louis Faidherbe, France, and the Senegalese ‘trailleurs’ (sell outs/traitors). She was a heroine of the resistance against French colonisation and Moors invasion. She was also the mother of Sidya Leon Diop or Sidya Ndate Yalla Diop, who went on to become one the greatest resistants to the colonisation of Senegal.
Queen Ndate was born in Dagana in 1810 to the family Tédiek, a family that had been enriched by accumulating wealth and weapons through exchanges with the French. Her father was Brak (King) Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and mother was Linguere (Queen) Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mboge. Note that in those days, Senegalese rulers of kingdoms (Wolof) bore the title of “Brak “ (Linguere (also: Linger or Linguère) was the title given to the mother or sister of a king in the Serer kingdoms of Sine, Saloum and previously the Kingdom of Baol; and the Wolof kingdoms of Cayor, Jolof, Baol and Waalo in pre-colonial Senegal. The word “Lingeer” means “queen” or “princess” in Serer and Wolof language.)
On the death of Brak Quli Mbaba Diop in 1816, his cousin Linguere Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj succeeded him and decided to install her husband Amar Fatim Borso as Brak of Waalo. This was the first time a Linguere was also the wife of a Brak. The Linguères are always prepared to lead their people militarily and politically. They received training in arms and they knew how to defend the kingdom in the absence of men. In 1820, the ‘Brak’ (king/ruler) of Waalo and his envoy were on an official business attending to community traditional functions in ‘Ndar’ aka ‘Sor’ when the neighbouring tribe took advantage of his absence and attacked the capital but an army of led by Fatim Yamar herself came to the rescue, defeating the invaders who happened to be the Moorish dissidents.
After the battle, which saw the army retreat and some captured, Fatim Yamar’s army surprised the attackers and everybody by taking off their armour/uniform to show that they were indeed women and not men.
The defeated army returned home but their pride having been beaten by women was severely bruised. They returned with an even stronger army forcing Linguere Fatim Yamar to escape with her two daughters 12 and 10 years, Ndjeumbeut and Ndaté Yalla. They girls, having inherited a rich inheritance of bravery and gallantry, and having been educated in war, the two girls later led the Kingdom.
Queen Ndate Yalla was officially crowned in October 1846 in Ndar (now called St Louis), the capital of Waalo kingdom. She succeeded her sister, Queen Ndjeumbeut Mbodj who died earlier that year.
She ruled the Kingdom with an iron fist and became a real threat to the French settlers who resisted it strongly. Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, a true ‘Linguere’, developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces against colonial resistance. She fought both the Moors who encroached on her territory, and the colonialist army led by Louis Faidherbe known as “the butcher and a bandit”. He later became the governor of Saint-Louis (Ndar’ aka ‘Sor’) and colonial head of the administration and army.
Her reign was marked by an ongoing defiance of the French against which she fought fierce battles. In 1847, she opposed the free passage of Sarakolé (Seninke) people by sending a letter to the French governor expressing her willingness to defend the respect of her sovereignty over the valley in these terms: “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.“
Almost 10 years into her reign in 1855, she encountered the greatest colonialist pirate Faidherbe, with an army of 15,000 strong, fully armed and ready to fight her, dethrone her, and colonize Waalo and Senegal. Faidherbe defeated her army in bloody battles, before capturing Saint-Louis. In February 1855, while the Faidherbe’s troops were entering the Waalo, the Lingeer spoke to the principal dignitaries of her country 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?”
She eventually lost the battle, but not the war; which continued to be a war of resistance until the early part of the twentieth century by Lat Dior Diop, and many other ‘Gelewars’. This conquest 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.