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Gregory Freeland

Many of the details about Henri Christophe's early life are unclear, but it is thought that he was born a slave on the British-ruled island of Grenada. At a young age he ran away and eventually became the property of a French naval officer and then of a planter on what was then the French-ruled island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). In 1779 Christophe was part of an armed group sent by the French to assist Americans in defending Savannah, Georgia, against the British. Christophe, at that time a slave orderly, may have fought in a battalion led by the Marquis du Rouvrary; he was wounded in a conflict in Savannah, Georgia, in October 1779. Christophe then returned to Saint-Domingue, and some time during this period he purchased his freedom. By 1790 Christophe was part of a French militia force that overcame two Haitian rebel forces ...


Richard Watts

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born to Congolese parents on a plantation in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known prior to independence). He was given the name of the plantation owner, Duclos, before adopting the name of the freed black landowner, Dessalines, who purchased his services as a slave. Unlike his future comrade-in-arms, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines was treated harshly as a slave and joined the ranks of maroons (runaway slaves) at a young age. In 1792 he became a partisan of the slave uprising led by Boukman, a slave of Jamaican origin, and impressed his compatriots with his courage. Yet Dessalines committed acts of cruelty that frightened some in the rebellion. His capacity for violence would contribute in equal measure to his precipitous rise and fall.

Following the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1793 Toussaint Louverture allied himself with the French Dessalines joined him eventually becoming Toussaint ...


Eloi Ficquet

uncrowned ruler of the kingdom of Ethiopia, from 1911 (de facto) or 1913 (de jure) to his deposition in 1916, was born in 1898, in the northern region of Wello that was ruled by his father, Ras Mikael. The latter descended from a dynasty of Muslim rulers and had been a Muslim, under the name of Muhammad Ali, before his conversion to Christianity, when Wello was integrated into the Christian kingdom. His mother was Shawaragga, the daughter of Emperor Menilek. Lij (infant) or Abeto (prince) Iyasu, the only male descendent of Menilek II, was educated as a royal prince, in isolation from his family.

In 1909 Menilek who was severely weakened after a series of strokes prepared his succession and proclaimed Iyasu as the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ethiopia Despite the official legitimacy that was conferred to him Iyasu s ability to reign ...


Robert Fay

Menelik II’s birth name was Sahle Mariam. His father, Haile Malakot, was king of Shewa, the heartland of the Amhara people in present-day central Ethiopia, and his mother was Wayzaro Ejegayahu, a court servant who later married Haile Malakot. His father’s death in 1855 during a military campaign by Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II, whose victory ended Shewa’s autonomy, brought Sahle Mariam to Tewodros’s court, where the emperor held all of his potential rivals. There he received a traditional church education. Sahle Mariam escaped in 1865, returned to Shewa, deposed Shewa’s governor, Bezzabbeh, and at twenty-one years of age declared himself negus (king) of Shewa, though he recognized the emperor Tewodros II as his overlord.

Sahle Mariam expanded Shewa s borders south and east into Oromo and Somali territory through warfare and diplomacy and under his rule Shewa became the largest and most powerful kingdom of Ethiopia At Tewodros s ...


Christopher Clapham

emperor of Ethiopia, was born 19 August 1844 in Ankober, Ethiopia, the grandson of Sahla-Silase, king of Shoa, southernmost of the major provinces of highland Ethiopia. The name “Menilek” referred to the legendary son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and prophesied for him a distinguished imperial future. At the age of 11, he was taken into captivity by the new emperor, Tewodros; but as the emperor’s power waned, he escaped and was received with joy in Shoa as its rightful king. Self-proclaimed king of Shoa, Menilek showed signs of imperial ambitions but lacked the military strength to challenge the ruler of Tigray, who became emperor Yohannes IV. When Yohannes advanced on Shoa, Menilek was obliged to submit, in March 1878. During the eleven-year period from 1878 until 1889 when Menilek was in effect the quasi independent ruler of Shoa he laid the foundations of his subsequent ...


Born in Menkwaneng the son of a Sotho leader Moshoeshoe began to gather together refugees from the upheaval in southeastern Africa known as the Mfecane in the early 1820s Retiring to an impregnable mountaintop known as Thaba Bosiu Sotho for Mountain of the Night he fought off several attacks but more often used his formidable diplomatic skills to defend his growing number of Basotho people In the early 1830s French missionaries arrived in the region While continuing to support the traditional customs and religion of the Sotho Moshoeshoe welcomed the missionaries and sought their advice in dealing with the British and the Afrikaner groups or Boers who were seeking to colonize southern Africa Fearing Afrikaner settlement on his lands he asked for British protection but an alliance with the government of the Cape Colony was not enough to prevent armed incursions by settlers into Basotho territory Fighting between the Basotho ...


Chris Saunders

founder of the Basuto nation Relatively little is known of his early life though he probably acquired his name meaning the shaver from his success in capturing the cattle of his enemies Born near the upper Caledon River in what is now Lesotho Moshoeshhoe s success as a junior chief attracted to him refugees and victims of wars during the turbulent decades of the early nineteenth century and he gradually built up a sizeable following He established himself first at Buthe Buthe then at Thaba Bosiu mountain of darkness a mountaintop citadel that his enemies found impossible to capture When attacked by the Zulu he agreed to pay tribute to Shaka in return for being left alone From Thaba Bosiu he skillfully played off the British and Boers in the lands along the Caledon River from the 1830s and won the allegiance of Sotho speakers living as far west as ...



Nathaniel Mathews

political leader in eastern and central Africa, was born Mwenda Msiri Ngelengwa Shitambi in Tabora (in present-day Tanzania) to an ambitious Sumbwa Nyamwezi trader. Msiri rose to become one of the most powerful of a new class of nineteenth-century African rulers who used firearms and long-distance trade to build up spheres of influence independent of clan linkages or hereditary inheritance. Msiri’s father Kalasa held a chieftainship under the great Nyamwezi ruler Mirambo and was also a very successful copper merchant. Known as the Yeke, Msiri and other Nyamwezi brought the peoples of the Katanga plateau coastal trade goods while providing a market for the heavy copper crosses molded in Katanga refineries.

Msiri s first political strategy was to ally himself with the Wasanga in their war against a Lunda regent Msiri was able to defeat the Lunda king earning the gratitude and subordination of the Wasanga He followed this victory ...



Elizabeth Heath

Born with the name of Ngelengwa in Tanzania, Msiri was the son of a Sumbwa chief and trader. Msiri started his career on the trade routes forged by his father between East and Central Africa. In 1856 he negotiated with Mwata Kazembe, chief of the Lunda empire, for the right to settle and trade in south Katanga.

There Msiri used alliances with local ruling families and firearms acquired from traders to build his own empire, the Yeke or Garenganze. By 1870 Msiri’s empire extended throughout Katanga. He also built his trade networks by forging ties with Tippu Tip, a trader of the Swahili people. He forged ties with many other East African merchants as well. With these traders he exported slaves and copper, also working in the Ivory Trade, in return for cloth and firearms.

In 1880 after the death of his father Msiri proclaimed himself mwami or king ...


Muchaparara Musemwa

founder and king of the Ndebele kingdom in what is now southwestern Zimbabwe, was born in central Zululand near the Black Mfolozi River, South Africa. He was the son of Matshobane (also spelled “Mashobane”), one of three chiefs who had seceded from the Khumalo clan, and Nompethu, one of the daughters of Zwide, chief of the neighboring Ndwandwe clan.

Because Nompethu was Matshobane s senior wife it followed that her first son Mzilikazi would be the heir apparent In keeping with custom Nompethu and her young child faced ritual death threats and were subsequently expelled from the territory of the Khumalo clan and Mzilikazi was obliged to live in exile for the duration of his father s reign or until his death This custom was observed in order to ensure the security of the chief s future successor from possible assassination and also to protect Mzilikazi from unnecessary influences from ...



Jeremy Rich

also known as Ruganza Ndori king and probable founder of the kingdom of Rwanda was born sometime in the sixteenth century A wide range of oral traditions about his rule collected in the first half of the twentieth century are the only sources available on his life so all dates are approximate Rwandan and foreign scholars generally agree that he was a real person even if later stories may have combined narratives associated with several kings onto Ndori His mother Ndori was said to be a stranger from the north who came with many cattle into the region that is now central Rwanda A number of traditions identify Ndori as a member of the Hima community associated with cattle herding in many parts of the Great Lakes region Before the appearance of Ndori there was no single kingdom Instead there were many different autonomous lineages Ndori s father Ndahiro Cyamatare ...



J. C. Winter

Mangi (king) of Keny in the southern Rombo region of Kilimanjaro (in present-day Tanzania) from c. 1800 to 1837, also known as Horombo and Rombo, was famous for having initiated a socio-military revolution and religious reformation in Chagga that brought it in line with the western world at the time, thereby ending Mamba’s rule over eastern Chagga. He unified by conquest all of eastern Chagga under his rule, then met with Mangi Rengua of Machame at the Nanga River between Mochi (Old Moshi) and Kiruwa in 1823, and they agreed that each should rule unmolested over his own half of Chagga.

When Orombo became the Mangi of Keny his realm was tiny and insignificant as for the past one hundred years Mamba succeeding Ugweno had dominated eastern Chagga Each mangidom consisted of localized patrilineal clans having noble warrior and cattle keeping lineages whose male and female youths passed ...


Akwasi Osei

King Osei Tutu I (c. c.e.1660–c. 1712), a king, states-man, warrior, and empire builder, was the most famous of a long line of warrior-kings who created the largest and most organized Akan state, the Asante Kingdom. Under his rule, the Asante confederation was established and grew to cover much of contemporary West Africa, including all of present-day Ghana, parts of the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo. This area had by the fifteenth century become a center of commerce and economic activity, mainly in gold and salt. There were also important trade routes that connected major trading centers from north to south, east to west. By the middle of the seventeenth century, many small Akan states had reached maturity and, like the Denkyira and Akyem, were active in consolidating their power.

It was then that some clan groups found themselves subjected to Denkyira then the largest Akan ...


David P. Johnson

Osei Tutu followed a model established by the earlier Akan military states of Denkyira and Akwamu. He forged Asante into a powerful state that dominated most of present-day Ghana for 200 years. Osei Tutu tripled the area under Asante control and gained the Asante access to, though not control of, the seacoast. There they could trade directly with the Europeans to exchange slaves and gold for firearms.

According to legend Osei Tutu was named after the shrine of Otutu where his mother had prayed for a child Obiri Yeboa Osei Tutu s uncle and ruler of the Asante chiefdom of Kwaman sent the young man as his heir for training at the court of Denkyira the state that then ruled over the Asante A love affair with the Denkyira king s sister forced Osei Tutu to flee to Akwamu a neighboring state to the east There he met Okomfo Anokye ...


Nana Yaw B. Sapong

Ruler of Kwaman and founder of the Asante Empire, also known as Osei Kofi Tutu, was probably born in Kwaman in present- day Ghana. His mother, Manu Kotosii, was the sister of Oti Akenten, ruler of Kwaman, and Obiri Yeboa, future ruler of Kwaman. Not much is known about his father, who was called Owusu Panin. In any case, the mother of a child is of more importance among the Asante because of the matrilineal system of inheritance. Legend has it that before Osei’s birth, Manu Kotosii was unable to have any children so Obiri Yeboa sent her to the powerful shrine of Otutu in Akwapim (Akwamu territory). There, the shrine interceded for her, and she later gave birth to Osei. In thankfulness to the shrine and to show her appreciation, Osei was named Tutu after the deity of the shrine.

As custom demands Osei was sent to the court ...