“Yennenga, tree from which the Mossi people grew” Yennenga was the daughter of Madega the legendary 12th century ruler of the kingdom of Dagbon in what is now northern Ghana. A powerful warrior in her own right, Yennenga lead soldiers into battle at the age of only 14. Matchless with the bow and spear, she was a legendary horsewoman who won many battles in her father’s name. When she came of age and expressed the desire to marry, her father refused. In protest, she planted and entire crop of Okra and let it rot in the field to show how she felt her life was withering away and her time to start her own family was passing her by. Her father was unmoved, so she escaped her father’s compound disguised as a man. Upon leaving her father’s kingdom she met a young Malinke prince and elephant hunter named Riale. They fell in love and had a son Ouedraogo, who became the first Mogho Naba (king) of the Mossi empire. Though Ouedraogo was the their first king the Mossi credit Yennenga as the founder of their nation and the royal horseman of Mossiland, to this day still carry her legacy forward.
“One who Descended to the earth on the Iron Chain” “Lawgiver of The Earth” Oduduwa is the legendary first Ooni (king) of Ile Ife the ancient center of the Yoruba civilization, located in what is now southwestern Nigeria and eastern Benin Republic. The identity and even gender of this legendary figure differs depending on where in Yorubaland you hear the story. Although there are various legends surrounding this enigmatic leader, the most commonly recorded legend claims that he was one of the Orisa, ancient spirits of natural and civilizing forces, worshipped by the Yoruba people and their descendants in the Americas. In a popular legend his brother Obatala was tasked with the creation of the world, but became drunk off of palm wine and failed to complete his task. Olodumare, The supreme being then sent Oduduwa in his stead. Oduduwa descended into the world on the Iron chain holding a snail shell, and accompanying him was the rooster and the Chameleon. When he arrived on the earth he upturned the snail shell and sand poured forth. The rooster (akuko) then spread the sand to the four corners of the world and the chameleon (Oga) tested the stability of the earth with its careful steps. Yoruba historians have interpreted the legend to be a metaphor for ancient conflicts between warring dynasties vying for power over Ile-Ife and its vast resources. The story also mythologizes the consolidation of Ile-Ife into one of Nigeria’s earliest metropolises. His son’s and daughters dispersed from Ife founding the 16 ancient Yoruba kingdoms. Whichever legend you choose to believe, Oduduwa’s place in Yoruba history cannot be denied. He is so important that the Yoruba people often refer to themselves as Omo Oduduwa (the children of Oduduwa).
ayajidda and Daurama are the patriarch and Matriarch of the Hausa Bakwai (Authentic Hausa Kingdoms ) located in what is now northern Nigeria and southern Niger. Bayajidda was a prince from the east who entered the city of Daura the oldest of the Hausa city states. Daurama last of a dynasty of ruling queens promised half of the city to anyone who could defeat Sarkin (Hausa for king) the great serpent who inhabited the city's well and demanded sacrifice in exchange for its use. Bayajidda slayed Sarkin, but instead of taking half of the city he asked for her hand in marriage. Their grandsons (or sons depending on the many versions sof the story) founded the ruling dynasties of the seven oldest Hausa kingdoms of (Biram, Daura, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Rano, and Zaria [Zazzau].
Jahnae Wyatt as Queen Poku of the Baule
Queen Poku was the legendary queen of the Baule people. According to legend when her people were fleeing the violent expansionist wars of the Ashanti people they came upon a river that was far too deep and wide to cross. Queen Poku offered her infant son to the river spirit in exchange for her people's safe passage. After giving her child to the river, hippopotamus emerged from its depths and her people were able to walk across on their backs. Poku was so broken hearted after her sacrifice that all she could say was “Baouli” “Baouli” “the child is dead”. To honor their queen, her tribe named themselves “Baoule” for her grief. The willingness to offer ultimate sacrifice and experience terrible loss for one's people is a common theme in the foundation myths for many of our ancestors. May it remind us that royalty is not simply about pomp and splendor, but what you are willing to give for the betterment and survival of our communities.
The Nri Igbo of north-central Igboland (currently Southeastern Nigeria) are one of the most ancient groups of the Igbo people, one of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups. For over 1000 years the region was under the suzerainty of the Eze’s, an order of powerful priest-kings who were responsible for upholding sacred rites and purifying the land of taboos. According to legend Eri, the first Eze Nri descended into the world from the heavens and found himself standing on an anthill surrounded by wet and marshy land. He complained to the high God Chukwu about his situation, who then sent down a blacksmith, who dried the earth with his bellows. This blacksmith would become the ancestor of the legendary Akwa blacksmiths who are the most famed metalworkers in Igboland. The place he founded was Aguleri the capital of what would become the Kingdom of Nri. Eze bore a son named Nri who found that the Igbo people were without sustenance as the mystical food provided to them by his father Eri left from the world upon his death. To remedy this he sacrificed his own two children to the earth. From his son sprouted the yam plant and from his daughter came the Cocoyam two of the major crops of the Igbo people. In exchange for such a grave sacrifice the Eze’s reserved the right to purify the land of taboos, preside over sacred religious rites and play a significant role in the installation of title holders. In a place were one’s children are more important than almost anything he sacrificed what was most beloved to feed his people. The willingness to offer ultimate sacrifice and experience terrible loss for one's people is a common theme in the foundation myths for many of our ancestors. May it remind us that royalty is not simply about pomp and splendor, but what you are willing to give for the betterment and survival of our communities.