West Africa suffered at the hands of the colonialists, but never was a time more terrible than the days of Julien Chanoine and Paul Voulet. These two French ambassadors were so horrible and unruly that even France regretted sending them on a mission to Africa.
The duo committed numerous atrocities through West Africa. They would burn entire settlements to the ground and rape and murder the locals. When France tried to get them under control, the two killed the appointed French governor and proclaimed their territories self-governing with themselves as the only authority.
Julien Chanoine and Paul Voulet continued with their vicious activities and subdued numerous kingdoms. But that was until they went for the Azna people. The Azna were a simple people headed by a woman at the time, and no one would have thought they’d stand a chance against the French troops. But to the surprise of many, Sarraounia Mangou, the queen of the Azna, put up a fight so fierce that the French had to leave these people alone.
Many attributed her victory to sorcery, which may be true, or perhaps rooted in failure to understand the power of a determined black woman.
But who was this amazing lady?
Sarraounia was a title, meaning “female chief” or “queen”. Her name was Mangou, so she was called Sarraounia Mangou. According to the oral traditions of the Azna people, Sarraounia Mangou was a beautiful queen who possessed great powers. In her days, she was known as the protector of her people.
Before the advent of the French, the Azna had faced hostility from their neighbors, especially the Fulani people. The Fulani had taken up Islam, which they wanted to spread to the Azna people.
When the Fulani realized that the Azna were not interested in Islam and that they had no intention of leaving their traditional faith, they waged war against them. But under the tactical leadership of Sarraounia Mangou, the Azna emerged victorious and managed to keep the Fulani and their Islam faith at bay.
Following the victory, the wise queen sought peace with the Fulani, showing them that she had no intent to fight them.
During the entire time when the Azna were warring with the Fulani, the Azna also faced another threat. The Tuaregs, who were a nomadic people living in the Sahara Desert, kept attacking them. Again, the queen was able to deal with the Tuaregs and even make peace with them, allowing them to trade freely with her people as long as they upheld peace.
And then came the French.
The French had the intention of taking over the land and controlling the people. They were a foreign force trying to establish itself as the only authority in the area. To make matters worse, the people they had put in charge behaved like complete villains, subjecting the local people to misery.
Still, Sarraounia Mangou reasoned that as she had managed to make peace with the Tuaregs and the Fulani, so would she try to reason with the French.
Unfortunately, Julien Chanoine and Paul Voulet, the French ambassadors, did not come around as the reasonable kind. Although their expeditions didn’t even need to take them to Lougou, the two and their troops made it clear that they intended to attack the queen’s people and establish their authority over them. The queen even went as far as suggesting other routes through which they could travel, but the duo refused to listen or change their minds.
As dialog had failed, Sarraounia Mangou decided to reach out to her neighbors, the Fulani and the Tuaregs. She asked them to join her in fighting their common enemy – the French. But for whatever reasons, the Tuaregs and the Fulani turned her down.
Left with no option, the Azna had to fight alone or fall at the hand of the French troops. Sarraounia Mangou began preparing for war.
She started by writing Voulet a letter filled with insults, daring the French to battle the Azna. Infuriated, Voulet and his men went marched for Lougou.
On the 16th of April 1899, the French had a hot clash with the Azna. They had figured that they would find a weak band of warriors, only to meet a well prepared army of Azna soldiers. The two sides clashed all day long, and were it not for the fact that the French had superior weapons, they couldn’t have stood a chance against the Azna, who had a lot more stamina and audacity.
Sundown, the French managed to disperse the Azna with their heavy gunfire.
Seeing the imminent win of the enemy, Sarraounia Mangou commanded her remaining forces to retreat to the bushes. As they knew the terrain better than the French, they were able to save themselves from Voulet.
In the following days, Sarraounia Mangou reorganized her people and adopted the guerilla strategy of attacking when the French least expected it.
Accounts say that the queen would raid the French in the night. Apparently, she and her soldiers would appear from the thickets and attack, killing French soldiers and disappearing quickly thereafter spirits. Stories of the queen’s magical powers spread through the French camps, causing many of the fighters to flee in fear.
Soon, the mission against Sarraounia Mangou and her people was abandoned, and the Azna were able to live in peace once more.
Meanwhile, it grew increasingly clear that the mission of Julien Chanoine and Paul Voulet was failing. When the French sent a high-ranking governor to question the two about their activities and the reasons for their failure, they killed him and proclaimed themselves free from France’s authority. But as their popularity among their troops had plummeted, the two got assassinated by their own soldiers.
As for Sarraounia Mangou, whether or not she had “mystical” help, one thing was clear. She was a strong woman.
As the other rulers of the region gave in to the French, Sarraounia Mangou of Niger stood her ground and saved her people from oppression. And once again, the black woman had demonstrated the power within her.