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Mohammed Hassen Ali

king of one of the five Oromo states of the Gibe region in southwestern Ethiopia during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was the richest prince, whose reign marked the golden age of the Gibe states. He was born in 1802 in Sappa, the first capital of the kingdom of Limmu Ennarya, where he received a rudimentary form of Islamic education. As a young man, the tall, handsome, well-built, and eloquent Abba Bagibo is said to have possessed a considerable share of his father Abba Mogol’s vigor. He spent many years in learning the art of war in his father’s army. It was during those years of training that Abba Bagibo demonstrated his exceptional qualities of leadership, organizational ability, management of information, and wise use of resources.

In 1825 Abba Bagibo overthrew his father seized power and adopted a commercial policy that made his new capital Saqqa ...

Article

Mohammed Hassen Ali

Oromo king of the Gibe region, in southwestern Ethiopia, was crowned in 1878. A year after his accession to power, Abba Jifar invaded the neighboring Oromo state of Gera with around twenty thousand men. This attack on a flimsy pretext was a show of force for the neighboring Oromo leaders, demonstrating his determination to dominate the political landscape of the Gibe region through threat or use of military power, diplomacy, and marriage alliances. He was not destined to dominate the Gibe region as the king of Shewa soon occupied it. Though Abba Jifar could mobilize tens of thousands of men for war, his army suffered from major weaknesses and lack of modern firearms and training.

In fact Abba Jifar came to power at a time of dramatic change in modern Ethiopian history when the clouds of conquest and destruction were hanging thick and low over the future of all ...

Article

Agonglo  

Robin Law

king of Dahomey (in modern Benin), was the son of Kpengla, his predecessor as king of Dahomey (r. 1774–1789). His official “Queen Mother” (kpojito), appointed as such after his accession to the throne, was a woman called Senume, but it is not clear whether she was also his biological mother. Contemporary European sources give his name as Wheenoohew, but this is not recognized in Dahoman tradition. He was also alternatively called Adarunza, but this seems to be a generic surname which (also in other variants, such as Adahoonzou) was applied by Europeans to all kings of the dynasty (Agonglo being counted as Adarunza VIII).

Agonglo s accession to the throne was contested with two other princes presenting themselves as candidates and his political position at the beginning of his reign appears to have been insecure requiring him to conciliate his senior officials and the populace more generally ...

Article

Akitoye  

Jeremy Rich

ologun (king) of the city of Lagos (in present-day Nigeria), was born early in the nineteenth century in the city that he would later rule. His father, Ologun Kuture, reigned over the port from roughly 1780 to around 1803. Akitoye’s elder brothers Adele and Osinlokun battled for power in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Eventually Osinlokun won this struggle. Akitoye only entered the competition for the throne in the 1830s, after the death of Osinlokun and his son and successor Idewu. The latter had no children. When Idewu’s ambitious brother Kosoko tried to seize the crown, his numerous opponents in Lagos sought to find other candidates to prevent Kosoko from taking power. The aging Adele was named ologun but only lived two years Then various family leaders and chiefs selected Adele s son Oluwole to block Kosoko from becoming the king but he only lived ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the Merina state of central Madagascar and a pivotal figure in its eighteenth-century expansion, was born around 1745 in the northern Malagasy town of Ikaloy. His father, Andriamiaramanjaka, was a member of the Zafimamy royal family of the northern independent kingdom of Alahamadintany. His mother, Ranavalonandriambelomasina, was the daughter of Merina monarch Andriambelomasina, who ruled Merina from roughly 1730 to 1770. He also was the nephew of Andriambelomasina’s successor, Andrianjafy, who was the king of Merina from 1770 to 1787.

He stayed with his father in Ikaloy until he was roughly twelve when he moved to the Merina court As a young man Andrianampoinimerina became a wealthy merchant and probably engaged in slave trading At the same time he presented himself as a defender of ordinary commoners fearful of slave raiding threats from neighbors like the Sakalava kingdom and unjust officials Supposedly Andriambelomasina had stipulated that ...

Article

Ari Nave

Oral traditions recorded by Jesuit missionaries in the late eighteenth century suggest that Andriambélomàsina, ruler of the Imerina (the territory of the Merina ethnic group) from 1730 to 1770 , directed that his eldest son Andrianjàfy succeed him, followed by his grandson Ramboàsalàma, son of his eldest daughter. Andrianjàfy, however, intended for his own son to take his place and plotted to kill Ramboàsalàma, who, fearing for his life, fled to the north. Supported by a dozen Merina chiefs, Ramboàsalàma returned in 1787, overtaking the city of Ambohimànga and exiling his uncle, who was later killed.

Ramboàsalàma was crowned Andrianampoinimerina, “the prince in the heart of Imerina.” After consolidating power through treaties and marriage alliances and establishing a capital at Antananarivo in about 1795 Andrianampoinimerina also known as Nampoina began to expand the Merina Empire Eventually he controlled much of the island conquering and consolidating the Betsileo Sihanaka ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the West African monarchy of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin), was born around 1844, one of the many sons of Glele, king of Dahomey. There is great debate in oral traditions collected in the twentieth century regarding his early life. Some claimed that Behanzin, known as Kondo before he ascended to the throne, lived with Hehegunon, a powerful member of the royal family. Others contended Behanzin was raised by the deposed Dahomean ruler Adandozan, perhaps to discredit him. It is generally believed that Behanzin did not have a close relationship with his father. European travel accounts before the 1870s do not mention Behanzin and instead suggest that Glele s son Ahanhanzo was the undisputed heir However Ahanhanzo died under mysterious circumstances during the mid 1870s Some of Ahanhanzo s descendents blamed Behanzin for Ahanhanzo s death while other accounts contend that smallpox took his life ...

Article

Cetshwayo was the son of Mpande, who was king of the Zulu from 1840to1842 , and the nephew of Shaka, who ruled from 1816 until 1828 and greatly expanded the Zulu kingdom. Cetshwayo was raised in the northern part of the Zulu kingdom near present-day Nongoma, South Africa. In 1856 he defeated and killed his half-brother Mbuyazi, whom Mpande had favored as the successor to the throne. After the British colonial forces in the nearby colony of Natal mediated between father and son, Cetshwayo publicly declared his loyalty to Mpande and was ceremonially proclaimed king in 1873.

For a time the British backed Cetshwayo in a land dispute between the Zulu and neighboring Afrikaners, white settlers of Dutch origin. The British began to withdraw their support, however, after annexing the Afrikaner territory of the Transvaal in 1877 since they no longer had a need for ...

Article

Michael R. Mahoney

Zulu king, was born in emLambogwenya, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, to the future King Mpande ka Senzangakhona and his wife Ngqumbazi. In 1839, shortly after Mpande defected from his brother King Dingane’s side in the war between the Zulus and the Boers, he officially declared that Cetshwayo would be his heir, even presenting him as such at a meeting of the Boer legislature that year.

As Cetshwayo grew up, he became involved in the various intrigues in the Zulu royal house. One of the main issues in these intrigues was the relative status of Mpande’s twenty-nine wives, each of whom came from a prominent family either within the Zulu kingdom or neighboring it. It has long been customary in polygamous households in this region for the husband to name one of his wives as inkosikazi, or chief wife with her eldest son being heir ...

Article

Walima T. Kalusa

king of the Bemba people (in present-day Zambia), was born perhaps around the 1810s. As a youth, Chitapankwa (“raider”) was reportedly as rebellious as he was ambitious. He married Kafula, a daughter of his uncle Chitimukulu Chileshe Chepela, against whom Chitapankwa had once fought but made peace with when Chief Tafuna of the Lungu apparently refused to help the ambitious young man remove his uncle from office.

Chileshe was succeeded around 1860 by his infirm and weak-minded brother, Bwembya. As the Bemba now faced mounting military threats posed by Zwangendaba’s Ngoni from South Africa, Chitapankwa easily persuaded the bakabilo (councillors) to depose Bwembya. He then usurped the chitimukuluship kingship But Chitapankwa too faced stiff opposition from other Bemba royals of the crocodile clan Abena Ng andu especially his own brother Sampa Bemba oral tradition memorializes Chitapankwa as having fought and defeated his brother but as having placated him ...

Article

Johnhenry Gonzalez

was born into slavery in 1767, probably on the island of Grenada. As with the other former-slave leaders of the Haitian Revolution, Henri Christophe’s early life remains shrouded in obscurity. Like Boukman Dutty, the original leader of the August 1791 slave uprising, Christophe was smuggled into Saint Domingue during the late eighteenth century as French colonists partially fed their growing demand for slaves by illegally importing them from surrounding Caribbean colonies.

As a child Christophe was sold to a slave owner in Cap Français, the principal port in the French colony of Saint Domingue. Decades later, when he rose to become the king of northern Haiti, he rechristened the town Cap Henri.

It is possible that Christophe had his first military experience in the American Revolution Although he was still a boy at the time many historians contend that he served among the hundreds of free men of color ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Dingane  

Michael R. Mahoney

Zulu king, was born to King Senzangakhona’s sixth wife, Mpikase ka Mlilela Ngobese, whom Senzangakhona had designated as his “great wife.” When Dingane’s estranged brother Shaka returned to the kingdom after Senzangakhona’s death, killed his heir, Sigujana, and assumed the Zulu kingship, Dingane joined the bulk of the Zulu royal house in pledging their allegiance to Shaka. Privately, however, Dingane seems to have harbored a desire to become Zulu king himself. In the late 1820s Shaka’s popularity began to decline, prompting him to rely ever more heavily on coercion to maintain his rule, which only undercut his popularity still further and made him all the more dependent on coercion. Dingane, his and Shaka’s half brother Mhlangana, and their aunt Mkabayi saw this as an opportunity and plotted to assassinate Shaka and have Dingane replace him. Dingane, Mhlangana, and Shaka’s servant, Mbopha, killed Shaka in late September 1828 While ...

Article

Dingane  

Together with other members of his family, Dingane took part in the assassination of the increasingly despotic Zulu chief Shaka on September 24 1828. Dingane subsequently murdered his co-conspirators and became king of Zululand.

As king, Dingane tried to end the ten years of continual war, but to keep the kingdom from splintering he was forced to continue Shaka’s repressive policies. In 1837 Dingane was asked for a grant of land by Pieter Retief, one of the leaders of the migration of Boers known as the Great Trek (1835–1843). Fearful of the encroaching Boers, Dingane hedged and asked Retief to show good faith by capturing some cattle which had been stolen by a Tlokwa chief. Retief retrieved the cattle and returned them to Dingane in February 1838 By then the Boer pioneers were already coming over the Drakensburg Mountains with their wagons and cattle and news ...

Article

Michael R. Mahoney

king of the Mthethwa people in southeastern Africa and patron of Shaka Zulu before the latter’s elevation to the Zulu kingship, was born uNgodongwana (the correct Zulu spelling of his name, which is more commonly but inaccurately rendered as “Godongwana”), the son of the Mthethwa king Jobe. As a young man, uNgodongwana got involved in a dispute over Jobe’s succession with his brother Mawewe, whom Jobe had named as heir to the kingship. In the course of the conflict, another brother, Tana, was killed, and uNgodongwana became a fugitive, eventually taking up the name Dingiswayo, which means “he who is banished” in Zulu.

Dingiswayo s life as a fugitive is shrouded in myth most of it concocted by early white settlers in the region Most notably Dingiswayo is supposed to have encountered a white explorer named Dr Cowan and possibly even traveled as far as to the Cape Colony There ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the Senegalese Wolof-speaking kingdom of Cayor, was born in the village of Keur Amadou in 1842. He was the son of Sakhéwère Sokhna Mbaye and Ngoné Latyr Fall. Fall was a female member of the royal family.

When his older brother, King Birma Ngone Latyr, died in 1859, the French colonial government, under the leadership of Louis Faidherbe, decided to place Madiodio Fall as the damel (king) of Cayor. Macodou Koumba Yandé Mbarrou, the choice of most nobles in the kingdom and Diop himself, led a civil war against Fall. The French government then sent a military expedition to intervene on behalf of Fall. Diop and his military commander, Demba War Sall, defeated Fall and his partisans in a bloody battle at Koki in 1861, and again at Ngol Ngol in 1863 Diop could not compete with heavy artillery and machine guns and so ...

Article

Faku  

Tim Stapleton

king of the Mpondo, was born near Qawukeni in what is now the northeastern section of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. His father was Ngqungqushe, ruler of the Mpondo Kingdom. Since Faku’s mother, Mamgcambe, was an ordinary royal wife, he was not initially considered an heir. However, when Ngqungqushe was killed in an attack on the nearby Bomvana in the 1810s, the late king’s councilors replaced the inexperienced yet legitimate heir, Phakani, with the more mature Faku largely because of his mother’s generosity and influence. During the intense raiding of the 1820s, Faku centralized the Mpondo state and increased its military potential. He banned the circumcision initiation ritual for young men as it removed them from military service and caused health problems.

Although some historians have portrayed the Mpondo as victims of Zulu aggression during this period under Faku s leadership they successfully defended themselves from invaders and launched predatory ...

Article

Jon Abbink

last king of the Kafa kingdom, in what is now southern Ethiopia, was born into the Bushasho elite of the Mingo clan, which had ruled Kafa since the seventeenth century, and he grew up in the Kafa town of Bonga. His father and predecessor as king was Galli Sherocho, who ruled from 1868 until his death in 1890, and his mother probably was Abette Yirge, who might have been a princess of the neighboring Gera kingdom. In 1890 he was installed as king (tato) in a special ritual in the capital Andaracha, led by Kafa nobles and royal advisers (mikirecho). He had been preferred above the oldest son of his father and the senior wife.

The Kafa kingdom over which Gaki Sherocho ruled was an original African state formation with a strong centralizing tradition and a pivotal role in the wider mercantile economy of southern ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

mbang (king) of the Chadian Baguirmi kingdom, was born in the middle of the nineteenth century. In his youth, his predecessor Ab Sakin battled numerous internal and external foes to retain his title as mbang. Bagurimi had long been dragged into disputes between its neighbors: the kingdom of Bornu to the west and the kingdom of Wadai to the east. Since the successes of Wadai’s dynamic ruler Sabun in the early nineteenth century, Wadai had treated Bagurimi as a vassal state. Ab Sakin tried to break free from Wadai, and a Wadaian army destroyed the Bagurimian capital of Massenya in 1871 in retaliation. Ab Sakin continued to fight against the Wadai and other claimants to the throne of Baguirmi. Yusuf, Sultan of Wadai, decided to impose a new king on Baguirmi more favorable to Wadai’s influence. At Ab Sakin’s death in 1884 Yusuf ensured the victory of Abdul ...