History books are filled with tales of heroic and inspiring men…but what about the women who helped shape our stories and legends? Some names have survived the ages– the Amazons, Joan of Arc, Mulan, Boudicca– but there are many that you may not have heard of.
Things like comic books and Disney movies will feature some of these heroes, but in watered-down ways that replace their strength and independence with a reliance on men… love interests whose roles end up dominating character growth and development. Here are just a few of these Warrior Women, who refuse to be forgotten or relegated into supporting-role damsels in distress:
“Woman Chief”, Crow War Leader
A Native American Crow chief and war leader in the mid-19th century. Born to the Algonquin Gros Ventre people, she was taken captive during a raid and adopted into the Crow. She was never interested in traditionally feminine pursuits and preferred to follow the example of her adoptive warrior father, who had lost his sons. She became respected for her marksmanship and horse riding, gained renown in battles and raids, and assumed leadership of her lodge when her father died, becoming a leading chief. She led her own band of Blackfoot warriors and eventually married four wives, increasing her lodge’s prestige. Showing great diplomacy in addition to warrior prowess, she later participated in peace negotiations after the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie– even solidifying peace between the Crow and the Gros Ventre.
Yennenga, Mother of the Mossi Empire
A legendary princess in Burkina Faso, Yennenga was known for her independence, skill in battle, and leadership in commanding her own battalion. When the time came for her to marry, her father refused to release her, preferring instead to keep her as a skilled warrior. No longer content to allow him to make decisions for her, she escaped with her stallion, dressed as a man to avoid detection. One of the king’s horsemen aided her escape but ended up being killed during their journey. She continued to ride north on her own and fell in love with an elephant hunter. Her son. Ouedraogo grew to found the Mossi Kingdom and her symbol (the stallion) continues to be a cultural icon to this day.
Sarraounia Mangon, Priestess and Chief of Azna Hausa
“Sarraounia” is a Hausa title given to a line of female rulers known for their political and religious influence. She was a warrior and priestess of the animist Azna people and refused to submit to French colonial rule, unlike most of her male counterparts. She led her people in the fight for their sustained independence by fighting the colonial troops head-on at the Battle of Lougou (present-day Nigeria). She was courageous and tactically-minded, adapting to the superior technology of the French by leading her people to adopt a style of guerilla warfare that the more formal military troops couldn’t combat. Eventually, the French had to abandon their attempts to subdue her and her name lives on in Nigerian history and literature.
There are only a few warrior women recorded in Japanese history and literature, but Hangaku’s name appears in the Azuma Kagami, an important historical text documenting events during the Kamakura Shogunate. She came from a family of warriors and grew to be just as fearless as her male comrades, having trained and fought alongside her brothers, nephews, and cousins. She wielded a naginata in battle and led 3,000 warriors to defend against an army of 10,000 during the Kennin uprising. She was eventually wounded and captured, but has been memorialized as one of the rare female samurai of renown.
There are many more inspiring women in our histories and tales…even more never even get recorded in the first place. Just as history is “written by the winners”, it is also typically written by those with the ability and means to do so. Female histories, impact, and voices have been ignored and unrecorded for centuries…so let’s celebrate and share the ones we do find here, to ensure their legacies are not forgotten! Share some of your favourites below!