Powerful Queens: Mombasa’s History and The Legend Mwana Mkisi  


Africa has a glorious history of ancient rulers who ruled powerful and strong kingdoms during ancient times. Mostly, people put on much weight on kings whenever we talk about ancient empires in the African region. We overlook the fact that there were also powerful Queens who ruled mighty Kingdoms and controlled powerful armies. Women started their leadership journey back in the ancient world. What the feminists are doing is just re-enforcement of the pillars already build.

Examples of such female rulers were Ranavalona the 1st, who was a ruler of Madagascar. Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh in Egypt, and Yaa Asantewaa was the gatekeeper of the golden stool. Other Queens were Queen Amina, Queen Candace Amanirenas, Queen Ahebi, Queen Makeda, and Queen Nefertiti.

Most of these Queens were outside the East African territory. People pay little attention when it comes to dynasties in the East African region. One may assume that there were no legendary rulers in East Africa. However, the assumption is wrong. This is because according to oral traditions, there is evidence of an East African Queen who was a ruler in Mombasa. She is unique because she is one of East Africa’s Queens who was not within the Ethiopian jurisdiction as most were.

According to the history of Mombasa, the ruler was called Queen Mwana Mkisi, mother of the 12 Swahili tribes of Mombasa. There is a brief history of the Queen, but in this article, we will try to discuss what she did in her times.

Queen Mwana Mkisi and Mombasa’s History

The founding of Mombasa is in connection with 2 rulers. They are Shehe Mvita and Queen Mwana Mkisi. According to history, Queen Mwana Mkisi is the earliest forebear of Mombasa’s oldest ancestries within Twelve Nations. People consider the families that have connections with the 12 nations as the earliest residents of the city. Mwana Mkisi was a ruler from the pre-Islamic period who started Kongowea.

Shehe Mvita overtook the Empire of Queen Mwana Mkisi and built the 1st permanent stone structure on the island of Mombasa. People remember Shehe Mvita as a Muslim of knowledge and hence is in connection with the current standards of the Swahili way of life.

The ancient history in connection with the Queen and Shehe and the starting of an urban community on the island of Mombasa is still in connection with today’s people in Mombasa. The 12 Swahili tribes of Mombasa ancestries verify this history in the present-day and are the custodians of native Swahili customs.

During the pre-modern era, Mombasa was a vital center for the exchange of gold and spices. Its trade connections reached China and India. According to Indian history, it reveals that there were trade connections between Mombasa and Cholas of the southern region of India. Mombasa was a chief connection in the complex Indian Ocean exchanging systems.

What Bwana Muyaka said

Bwana Muyaka is a popular poet in Swahili history who lived during the 19th century. In his poem relating to the Queen and founder of Kongowea, he says:

“Kongowea belongs to Queen Mwana Mkisi, Mvita is the ancient city. Do not surpass its limits, but tread respectfully therein. Cast your head down and don’t look straight with your eyes open. It’s an abyss of deep sadness even those who are knowledgeable understand it not.”

The poem is trying to reflect the constant battle over Mombasa and foreign people who attempted to capture it. In Bwana’s poem, he is also claiming and confirming that Kongowea belongs to Queen Mwana Mkisi. Moreover, he is hinting at the fact that she started the city and established it into the 1st urban civilization.

The relevance of Ancient Women Rulers in the Modern World

From the history of ancient African Queens including Queen Mwana Mkisi, we can learn a few things about women that we can apply. We learn that women are strong, resilient, skillful, and creative hence they can solve problems in leadership just as men if the world gives them a chance to.



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