The Brave Ndate Yalla Mbodj, The Wolof Queen who stood against Colonial Invasion. In the 19th century, this strong woman refused to submit to the French presence and still remains an important figure of the resistance to the occupation of Africa.
In the 14th century, the Wolof Empire of Jolof was created. Around the 16th century, it was disintegrated and the Jolof, Waalo, Baol and Cayor States were created. In accordance with the African matriarchy tradition, the Waalo women of royal blood called Lingeer carried the power legitimacy. The Lingeer gave the King (Brack) permission to execute power.
This is how Lingeer Fatim Mbodj appointed her husband Amar Borso Mbodj as Brack of Waalo. From their union, two daughters were born: Ndjeumbet and Ndate Yalla. While they were very young, the princesses were trained by their mother for the kingdom management and defense.
In 1820, the Brack was getting treatment outside Waalo when the Berbers also known as Moors assaulted the kingdom. Fatim Mbodj and her female army disguised in men faced and repelled the invaders who were also slave traders.
As they were hurt in their pride since they were defeated by women, the Moors decided to carry out another expedition. This time, since their defeat and enslavement were inevitable, the Lingeer and her female warriors collectively killed themselves with the use of fire. She allowed her two daughters – 10 and 12 years old – to escape in order to pursue the lineage.
The two women took over Waalo. Their cousin Mambodj Malick appointed as Brack was holding a secondary position. When Ndjeumbet died in 1846, Ndate Yalla was 36 and became the sole ruler of the kingdom.
In 1848, the French officially started to colonize Senegal from Saint Louis called Ndar in Wolof which was annexed from the 17th century. Ndate Yalla Mbodj was impressive with her authority to the extent that she was considered as one of the main regents in Senegal by the colonizers. The Queen stood against their expansion.
Faced with the French occupation plan of Mboyo Island, the Queen wrote to colonial governor Louis Faidherbe and said: “the purpose of this letter is to let you know that Mboyo Island belongs to me from my grandfather to me today. Nobody can state that this country belongs to them. It is only mine”. The Queen also denied access to her territory to the Sarakollé people who supplied Saint Louis with livestock.
Faced with the French’s stronger will to expand, she retaliated by plundering with her troop, markets around Saint Louis. Faidherbe wrote this to her: “if you want our relations to remain sound, you must give back the 16 oxen you are holding (…) otherwise I shall become your enemy and that would be your fault”.
The Queen carried on challenging the French colonial authority by initiating a series of battles. The Lingeer prohibited a part of the business from which the French were profiting. They decided to wind everything up by sending an army of 15,000 men to subdue Ndate Yalla in 1855.
At the time of the decisive battle, the Queen said: “today, we have been attacked by the invaders. Our army is in disarray. Virtually all Waalo tiédos, though brave, fell under the enemy’s bullets. The invader is stronger than us – I acknowledge – but should we give away Waalo to foreigners?” She was defeated in 1855 and died 5 years later. Waalo was annexed by France.
Faidherbe had her son Sidya Ndate Yalla Diop captured and renamed him Leon. Ndate Yalla’s son was sent to a French school in Saint Louis, then Algiers where they tried to turn him into a docile colonial representative. As he returned to his homeland, Sidya Diop, 17 years old, rejected his colonial name, the French language and outfits when he reclaimed his mother’s legacy.
The prince set up a large resistance movement and inflicted serious losses on the enemy with his powerful army. As he was attempting to create a national freedom movement, he was betrayed and captured by the French after very violent clashes. Deported to Gabon and hopeless with the idea of never returning to Senegal, he committed suicide at the age of 30. Like his mother, he remained one the main fighters who stood against colonization in Senegal.
Ndate Yalla Mbodj is part of the great number of strong women in African history, who stood against Europeans, from Sudanese Empress Kandake Amenirenas in antiquity, Queen Nzinga in Angola during slave trade to priestess Aline Sitoe Diatta from Senegal or Queen Yaa Asantewaa from current Ghana.