Senegalese commemorate Ndate Yalla as one of the greatest women in their history. She played a significant role in the 19th century, where she empowered women through her exceptional leadership skills. To date, Senegalese celebrate her for her astute nature and battling spirit towards the French invaders. This article will look at her early life, rise to power, and resistance towards the French.
Origin of Ndate Yalla
Ndate Yalla was born in 1810 to King (Brak) Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj and queen Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj. Her father was an influential King amongst the Waalo and, as such, had a great dynasty. Her mother, however, was the first wife to King Bayo. As such, amongst the King’s wives, she was the most potent lingeer. The latter is a title the Waalos used to refer to the queens.
Ndate had an elder sister who was called Ndjeumbeut Mbodj. Hence, she was the last-born daughter of King Amar from the first wife. Ndjeumbeut had tied knots with Emir, who was from Tarza.
In January 1926, a tragedy struck the Waalo Kingdom. It was on this day that Ndate Yalla’s father passed away. The people mourned in grief as they remembered how strongly King Amar opposed the Islamic religion. Often, he told his people that a Brak should never convert to Islam.
Ndate was growing into a beautiful young woman, with characters that matched his father. By the time she was 16 years old, they had married her off to her cousin Yerim Mbanyik, who then became the Brak. However, the marriage was only a way to advance Mbanyik’s political career.
It was not long before Ndate married another man, Sakoura Barka Diop. The latter was the Prince of Cayor and Lord of Koki. Many people knew Sakoura as Marosso Tasse Diop. In October 1846, Queen Ndate gained the title lingeer. She had succeeded her elder sister, Ndjeumbeut, to become the queen.
The Reign of Ndate Yalla
Queen Yalla had reigned the Waalo dynasty right from 1846 to 1855 before the French colonials took over. At the time of her reign, the French had already taken control of Saint Louis, which initially was the capital of Waalo. Therefore, amid Ndate’s reign, she was determined to protect the assets belonging to her kingdom. It is not once or twice but generally demanding the French to pay taxes when they traded through their land.
The French colonials traded with the Soninkes (Sarakoles), who supplied them with cattle. Meanwhile, for these cattle to reach Saint Louis, they passed through the Waalo Kingdom. As such, the French and Waalos conflicted often due to such issues. There was even a time when the French claimed that the Waalos had detained 16 cattle out of 160 that a Frenchman had ordered.
The French authorities went to the queen and demanded the animals back.
Queen Ndate Yalla was reluctant and, as such, didn’t return any oxen. It was then that their enmity degenerated into a monster. The French colonials left infuriated, declaring war with the Waalos. Their urge to control the Waalo Kingdom had become stronger. They could not wait to attack and dethrone the lingeer.
It was at the same time that Queen Ndate Yalla wrote a letter to the French governor. This is what she stated:
“We have wronged no one. Waalo belongs to us, that is why we guarantee the passage of livestock in our state. For this reason, we charge one-tenth, and we shall never accept any other thing. Saint Louis to the governor, Cayor to the Damel, Djollof to the Bourba, Fouta to the Almamy, and Waalo to the Brak. Each of these chiefs governs his country the way he deems fit.”
Therefore, to secure her Empire, Ndate sought aid from the Moors of Trazar, who were of the Muslim religion. It was not long before their alliance hit a brick wall as the Moors were encroaching their land. The Moors thought they could take over the Waalo Kingdom. Therefore, the relationship between the Waalos and Moors deteriorated.
By this time, the Waalo Kingdom was on the verge of collapsing. It was facing instability, social and political unrest, and civil wars. Waalo had become indispensable to the French neighbors. Dealing with many enemies was not a walk in the park for the King of Waalo. Seeing that the Kingdom was in danger of falling, the King stepped down, and Queen Ndate Yalla took control.
The enmity between Ndate Yalla and the French administrators surged as she kept demanding them to pay taxes any time they traded through their land. In 1850, a French and Senegalese descendent man, called Fatha David Bolaja, visited the queen. He was particularly in Senegal for a missionary trip.
The Battle with The French Colonials
As tensions arose and the Frenchmen become a greater threat, Ndate Yalla decided to form an army. The army was composed of both males and females. It was one of the most formidable armies in the history of Senegal.
The army consisted of strong men and women who were determined to protect their country from invaders. They were not at any point, going to surrender to the colonial invaders. At one time, the Queen and her army plotted to plunder and loot the Island of Saint Louis.
The Frenchmen demanded they return what they had stolen. But Queen Ndate Yalla refused to live up to their expectation. She then forbade any trade with the French and warned them against trading via her land.
At this time now, the former governor Protet was no longer in charge as he had been replaced with General Louis Faidherbe. The attacks between the French and Waalos had increased and generated a battle. In 1855, Maaroso Tasse, the prince of Cayor and the general in charge of the Waalo army, put up a spirited fight against the colonial invaders.
The battle went for several months, lasted days and nights, with every single day communities waking up to attacks. According to history, this is the first-ever great battle where the French fought to conquer Senegambian empires.
The Sine, Saloum, Baol, Cayor, and Jolof Kingdoms were some of the Kingdoms that France wanted to control. During that time, the Kingdom of Waalo was the only dynasty with a female ruler.
The other empires had male rulers. To make the situation worse, the Waalo Kingdom was the closest to the French territory (Saint Louis). As such, it was much more under threat than the other dynasties.
Therefore, the French general decided to launch its first mega attack on Waalo. He wanted Waalo to be the first Senegambian territory to collapse.
Defeating the Waalo Kingdom was not as easy a task as the Senegambians might have thought. This is because the Waalos had formed a strong army that only intended to win the battle, nothing else.
Waalo was one of the two Kingdoms of Senegambian empires that gave rise to both the Jolof and Serer empire of Sine. That is so because Ndiadiane Ndiaye, who founded the Empire originated from Waalo. Therefore, Waalo has a pretty ancient relation. However, amongst all the Wolof Kingdoms, Waalo is the most democratic. Why? It is only in this kingdom that even those from the bottom social strata could rise to the top. There was no discrimination based on one’s social status.
Waalo kingdom also had numerous resources which contributed to its good economic growth. Fish, gum Arabic, cotton, sugarcane were just but some of the resources Waalo was rich in. They gained so many profits from fishing, especially since Waalo had a coastline in contact with the Atlantic Ocean.
After several months of fighting, Maroso and Ndate Yalla refused to submit to the French colonials. Instead, they mobilized more people to join in the fight against the colonials. The French general in turn brought in 15000 army officers from Nigeria and added more weapons. However, Moraso did not manage to defeat the French as their army was overwhelming.
In January 1855, the French destroyed the Waalo Kingdom, reducing it to ruins. By this time, they had not much hope. Nonetheless, Maroso and his army were still willing to fight. The queen had also refused to accept defeat. When the French finally defeated them, this is what Ndate.
“Today, the conquerors invaded us. Our army is completely routed. The Tiedo (animist army) of Waalo, valiant warriors though they are, have almost all fallen to the bullet of the enemy. The invader is stronger than we are, I know, but should we abandon Waalo to the hands of foreigners?”
Many of Ndate Yallo’s men had lost their lives during the battle. However, defeat is something that the Waalos never accepted. Such that even under defeat, they still stood firm and defended their Kingdom. In addition to the defeat, the French army captured Ndate’s youngest son and held him under siege. Today, Senegalese embraces Ndate’s spirit of never despairing.