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In ancient times only the deities lived in the world. Their mother was Nananbouclou. She hurled fired into the sky. It remains to this day. It is called Baiacou: the Evening Star. - from an African folktale
From the dawn of civilization, Africa's royal women have shown themselves to be intelligent, resourceful, courageous, passionate - and sometimes vulnerable. Although born and raised in different parts of the continent, they all shared a common desire to forge their own destinies and to live on in eternity. Their astounding stories, true and fabled, survive today to reveal their accomplishments and their legacies.
By 1500 B.C., Egypt's great pyramids had stood for more than ten centuries. Egypt had survived periods of plague, pestilence, and even opulence and now was enjoying a renaissance. The Hyksos - invaders from southwest Asia who had ravaged and controlled Egypt for decades - had been driven from Lower Egypt, the land encompassing the Nile River Delta and its northern valley. In addition, Egypt's armies were marching south to conquer Nubia, a fertile land that stretched along the banks of the Nile, near present-day Libya. While Egypt added new territories to its boundaries, it also grew internally - to become the undisputed center of culture and politics in the larger eastern Mediterranean world. It was the beginning of the New Kingdom - a period of great Egyptian power and wealth that would last four centuries, from around 1539 to 1070 B.C. Hatshepsut, one of Egypt's most fabled rulers, lived in the early years of this glory.
Daughter to Pharaoh Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose-Nefertere, Hatshepsut was born around 1500 B.C. Beautiful and intelligent, Hatshepsut knew a life of great wealth and privilege. When Thutmose I died around 1492 B.C., the Egyptian court insured the continuation of the royal bloodline by wedding her, a full-blooded royal, to her half-brother. Thutmose II was the new pharaoh and the son of Thutmose I by a lesser wife. (Incestuous marriages were common among Egyptian royals since the women carried the royal blood.) Though still a very young woman, Hatshepsut ruled as Thutmose II's principal queen.
She of Noble Bearing Š Great Royal Spouse Š Daughter of the God Amun Š First Lady of the Two Lands. Hatshepsut proudly wore these titles as queen. She stayed in the background when Thutmose sat on his throne, but her intelligence was always evident. Thutmose frequently left Hatshepsut in charge when he journeyed abroad - leading successful military campaigns into Syria and Nubia that acquired both land and great wealth. Before Thutmose II died, he named his only son - seven-year-old Thutmose III, born to a harem girl - his successor. Since Thutmose III was too young to rule on his own, the Egyptian high court designated Hatshepsut as co-regent. A wise and ambitious woman, Hatshepsut understood her position and ruled judiciously.
Although Hatshepsut could have declared war on her neighbors, she chose to focus instead on national affairs. She built education and arts facilities. She dismantled the main army and sponsored peaceful diplomatic expeditions into Punt, Asia, Greece, and strategic areas on the continent of Africa. Later, caravans and ships followed, trading in gems, ivory, ebony, oils, spices, incense, and even trees. Hatshepsut continued to rule even after Thutmose III came of age. It appears that they split the duties: She oversaw the administration while he commanded the military. A few years later, however, with Thutmose III involved in military campaigns, Hatshepsut crowned herself pharaoh.
She used to her advantage the Egyptian belief that a royal birth resulted from the union between the pharaoh's mother and Amun-Re, the supreme deity. (Some experts believe that this notion, a heavenly god fathering a human child, may have sowed the seeds for Christianity.) Hatshepsut claimed that Amun-Re had come to Queen Ahmose-Nefertere in the human form of her husband, Thutmose I. Since she, Hatshepsut, was the child of that union, she concluded that she was the rightful child to rule all of Egypt. To legitimize her claim to the title of pharaoh, she ensured that the people of Egypt recognized her as pharaoh by always appearing in public in full royal male regalia: a simple robe, red-and-white crown, royal wig, and a nems (a striped cloth placed around the wig). She also donned a false beard, facial hair being strictly forbidden to all but the pharaoh. She even claimed a pharaoh's privilege and had a burial tomb carved out for herself in the Valley of the Kings, adjacent to that of Thutmose I.
As peace thrived under Hatshepsut's reign, wealth grew. Hatshepsut spent her fortunes on monuments to the gods, both to honor them and to ensure her prominence in the afterlife. Senmut, a renowned architect and astronomer of the era - reportedly a Black man and her lover - built several temples and obelisks upon her instruction. Today, Egypt claims many of Hatshepsut's commissions among its greatest wonders of the past. One such marvel is the large mortuary temple built of limestone at Deir el-Bahari intended to honor herself and her human father, Thutmose I. The temple steps back into the cliff in three levels, each faced by a colonnade and adorned with relief sculpture that depicts in great detail the glory of the expedition to Punt that Hatshepsut financed.
Another monument, the Red Temple at Karnak, housed the statue of Amun-Re. Each year during the Opet - a celebration honoring the new year - temple priests carried Amun-Re's statue from the Red Temple to his shrine at Luxor to receive the worship of his subjects. In return for their loyalty and offerings, Amun-Re was to shed favor upon them for the next year. Four obelisks built of red granite from Aswan and inscribed with hieroglyphics in honor of Amun-Re flanked the Red Temple. They stretched to the heavens in height and splendor, their surfaces of electrum glinting in the sun. One still stands today after 35 centuries, a hint of electrum still adorning its surface; its inscription begins:
I have done this with a loving heart for my father Amun; Initiated in his secret of the beginning, Acquainted with his beneficent might, I did not forget what he had ordained. My majesty knows his divinity, I acted under his command; It was he who led me, I did not plan a work without his doing.
Hatshepsut died in 1458 B.C. after effectively ruling for more than two decades. It is not known how Hatshepsut died. What is known is that despite her opulent public life, Hatshepsut may have had one secret love. Discovered in her tomb, lying beside the great ruler, was an ebony-skinned baby, mummified and wrapped in the royal tradition with Hatshepsut's insignia.
Following Hatshepsut's death, Thutmose III assumed the full role of pharaoh. Thutmose III is said to have despised his stepmother and her reported relationship with Senmut. He felt ignored and scorned by Senmut, and he believed that Hatshepsut squandered his heritage at Senmut's directive. Perhaps in retaliation, Thutmose III ordered destroyed many of Hatshepsut's creations, especially where she was depicted with Senmut. Many temples Hatshepsut had built, as well as statues of her likeness, were defaced. On some statues the royal emblem was knocked off her headdress; on others the eyes were pecked out with a small chisel. Still, Thutmose III could not completely destroy her legacy. Her monuments - and her story - endure. Written on one of the obelisks at Karnak is her enduring declaration: "As I shall be eternal like an undying star."
Several decades later, with Egypt still thriving under the influence inspired by Hatshepsut, Pharaoh Amenhotep III wed Tiye, a young Nubian of noble birth. Tiye was born around 1400 B.C.; her father Yuya served Amenhotep as a Master of Horse and Chancellor of the North. According to some historians, the introduction of Tiye into Egypt's royal family changed the fate of Egypt forever - it solidified Egypt and Nubia in a bond that brought Black Africa and North Africa together. Under Amenhotep, the kingdom stretched from the farthest tip of Egypt's New East to the Kingdom of Napata in present-day Sudan.
Amenhotep III became pharaoh around 1390 B.C. when he was 10 to 12 years old; he married Tiye, who was around the same age, shortly thereafter. He proceeded to marry many more women, forging political alliances that brought Egypt wealth and strategic military alliances. Many of his wives were of noble birth, including the daughter of the King of Babylon; however, Tiye, with her charm and beauty, was Amenhotep's favorite wife and his principal queen. She would hold the position as the Great Royal Spouse of Amenhotep III for nearly 50 years. Because Amenhotep held Tiye in such high esteem, he proclaimed her an equal of a king - the first time a nonroyal had achieved such status. She was also the first queen depicted on even par with her husband in royal portraits.
Tiye's husband showed her his affection in many unique ways. He had her accompany him to many events, even though royal protocol called for Amenhotep's mother, the carrier of the royal bloodline, to accompany him to certain official ceremonies. (One can only imagine how his mother felt about having to share her time and the attention of the masses with her daughter-in-law from Nubian origins.) He built Tiye a gorgeous barge, the Splendor-of-Aten, then dug an artificial lake so she could float the craft for special ceremonies, fireworks, or whatever pleasure she desired. He also commissioned for her a great complex of structures in western Thebes; it is believed Tiye resided in the southeast quarter of the complex in what is called the South Palace. Amenhotep went even further by erecting a splendid temple dedicated to her worship in the Nubian city of Sedeinga, on the west bank of the Nile in present-day Sudan.
Amenhotep loved and trusted Tiye so much, and so respected her intellectual capabilities, that he considered her a trusted advisor and confidante in affairs of state. He often left her in charge while he traveled on missions to increase Egypt's honor; his faith in her judgment was proven correct time and again when she ruled alone for long stints.
When Amenhotep died in 1353 B.C., Tiye's power and influence did not end as was the case for many previous queens. In fact, when Tiye's son Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) took the throne, she became secretary of state, a position second only to the pharaoh. Leaders from other countries routinely conferred with Tiye on matters regarding international relations, remembering and respecting her earlier actions as queen to Amenhotep. Tushratta, King of Mitanni, beseeched Tiye to influence Akhenaten to honor the agreements made between himself and Amenhotep: "You are the on[e, on the other ha]nd, who knows much better than all others the things [that] we said [to one an]other. No one [el]se knows them (as well)." Eager to continue the goodwill between their two kingdoms, he added "You must keep on send[ing] embassies of joy, one after another. Do not cut [them] off." Tiye served as the liaison between the courts at Thebes and Amarna, Akhenaten's new capital. Meanwhile, Akhenaten, encouraged by his mother, preoccupied himself with religious reform, proclaiming for the first time in human history the idea of a single god. He named Aten, the solar disk and a lesser god to Amun-Re, the supreme deity. He devoted himself to his beliefs and the building of Amarna, which would be the center of worship for Aten. Tiye died around 1340 B.C., but her groundbreaking accomplishments in matters of royalty and affairs of state live on.
Just as Egypt claims Tiye as a queen, Ethiopia claims Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, as one of its own. Makeda (or Bilqis as she is known in the Islamic world) is considered by Ethiopians to be the mother of the Ethiopian royal bloodline that commenced in the tenth century B.C. and continued to modern times.
The story of Makeda is written in the Bible, the Koran, and the Kebra Negast (Glory of Kings, an Ethiopian epic), each with subtle variations. According to legend, Queen Makeda learned of the wisdom of Jerusalem's King Solomon from a merchant prince named Tamrin, who had been engaging in trade with that king. Old Testament scripture states in I Kings that when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she decided to prove him with hard questions. She set out to see the king, carrying with her an abundance of gold and spices. Like any visiting dignitary, Makeda did not want to arrive empty-handed. Her gifts were both an offering of peace and a demonstration of her prosperity. The Song of Solomon in the Bible has Makeda allegedly saying upon her arrival, "I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem."
King Solomon loved women and reportedly had a harem of more than 600 wives and concubines. He was instantly struck by Makeda's beauty and wished to claim her for his own; however, the Queen of Sheba was bound to chastity. So enthralled was Solomon by the Black queen that he respected her wishes. Still, he seldom left her side. He lavished her with feasts during which the two of them dined and talked every night until dawn; he commissioned for her an apartment made of crystal and had a throne for her placed at his side. For six months Makeda witnessed his decisions, actions, and interactions with his people. Only then, as said in I Kings 10: 6-7, was she convinced of his wisdom:
And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.
Then, according to the Kebra Negast, she announced that it was time to return to Ethiopia and her people. They needed her. Her announcement saddened Solomon; he had hoped to convince her to consummate their union, for he very much desired a son born of this strong, intelligent, and beautiful woman.
The Kebra Negast relates that King Solomon created a situation to fulfill his dearest wish. He made Makeda's final night more festive than all the previous days and nights she had spent in Jerusalem. He lavished her with everything that his royal throne could summon. Fiercely attracted to Solomon, Makeda's resolve finally crumbled, and she welcomed the king into her bed. The next day, Solomon supposedly gave Makeda 6,000 chariots laden with gifts, and a vessel that traveled in the air. Upon returning home, Makeda learned she was carrying Solomon's child; she named him Menilek, the Son of Wisdom, to honor his father.
Excerpted from Africana Woman by Cynthia Jacobs Carter Copyright © 2003 by Cynthia Jacobs Carter . Excerpted by permission.
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|In Her Own Words||22|
|2||From Africa to the New world||40|
|In Her Own Words||58|
|3||Out of Slavery||70|
|In Her Own Words||86|
|4||Making a Place in the World||98|
|In Her Own Words||118|
|5||Taking Society by Storm||126|
|In Her Own Words||138|
|In Her Own Words||168|
|7||Leaders on the World Stage||188|
|In Her Own Words||198|
|8||Setting the Pace in the New Millennium||218|
|In Her Own Words||232|
|Africana Woman: Her Time Line||246|
|Acknowledgments, Additional reading||251|
Posted November 13, 2003
Dr. Carter's rendition about women of African decent is triumphant in that it reminds the world of just how powerful fortitude can be and all that African women have contributed to history. The 'Never give up spirit' of these women and their will to succeed is most inspiring at a time in history when women are beginning to find a voice in everything from childbearing to political office. This book serves as a vehicle to empower any woman who has ever felt she is not a beautiful creature, or can not achieve greatness in her life. Thank you Dr. Carter for reminding us all!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.