chapter  4
11 Pages

Powerful Women

ByCatherine Coquery-Vidrovitch

In subsistence societies, where women's role was key to survival, men certainly asserted their political supremacy, but women always retained opportunities for power. Even among the Tonga, where women's submission was great, there were women chiefs who had power over very limited units of production in this area of widely scattered homes. The important role played by queen mothers or their equivalents, whether in a matrilineal or patrilineal society, is the clear sign of real female power. The legendary history or the sixteenth-century Queen Amina of Zazzau is much like that of Nzinga. Women also sometimes acted as regents in Africa, as they did elsewhere. In southern Africa, women seem to have played a relatively important political and military role among the Zulu, where we know that Shaka, their formidable ruler at the beginning of the nineteenth century, had both girls and boys in his military forces.