Yennenga – The Beautiful Stallion-Riding Founding Mother of Burkina Faso

Yennenga – The Beautiful Stallion-Riding Founding Mother of Burkina Faso

A beautiful stallion stands outside a cabin in a forest somewhere in West Africa. Inside the cabin are two people. A nice elephant hunter guy, and a royal princess, who has just run away from home. They met today, by pure chance, and are now deeply in love. Their chance meeting will play a center role in the formation of a great kingdom, Mossi, and ultimately, the West African country of Burkina Faso.

But how did it all occur? It goes like this:

Yenenga was born in the 12th century, the only child of King Nedega of the Dagomba Kingdom. Dagomba was based in what is now northern Ghana.

In those days, it was not customary for a woman to receive formal military training. Yet it was not acceptable for a person without a warrior’s ferocity to ascend the throne.

So what was the good king to do to ensure there was a smooth transition of power once he was gone? King Nedega decided to teach his young daughter, from the age of around seven years, all that he knew. That included riding horses, launching attacks, and coming up with strategies to defeat enemies.

Being a fast-learner, the young Yennenga grasped everything her father taught her. She trained with the grown male soldiers of her father’s army and became a strong and fierce warrior.

By the age of 14, Yennenga was a fully-trained soldier in the army of Dagomba Kingdom. In one battle against the Malinkés, Yennenga, a girl of only 14, led her own battalion. Armed with spears and bows, and riding on horseback, the young princess crushed the enemy, thereby cementing Dagomba’s position as one of the strongest kingdoms in the region.

In the remaining years of her teenage life, Yennenga led many other battles. She conquered new territories, subdued new subjects, and expanded her father’s kingdom.

But one huge challenge lay in the waiting.

When Yennenga came of marriageable age, she asked her father for permission to find a lover and settle down. But the king had other plans. Seeing what an important fighter her daughter had grown into, Nedega was not ready to let his daughter leave his army and settle down. In fact, he forbid the princess to find a lover or engage in any sexual relations.

Dejected, the princess planted a wheat field and cultivated it so that she got a good crop. But once the crop was ready for harvest, Yennega refused to harvest it, and instead allowed the wheat to rot.

When her father asked Yennenga to explain her reasons for doing that, she said that is the same exact thing he was doing to her. She told the king that he had shaped her into a strong and beautiful woman, only to let her age without ever finding love or allowing her to have her own children.

Unfortunately, that did not move the king. As a matter of fact, he had the princess locked up within the palace, fearing she would become unruly and defy his orders.  

Yennenga did not give up.

As she had many friends in the army, she asked one of the soldiers for help. On one evening, the soldier helped Yennenga dress up as a man and helped the princess get her stallion. They both escapade the kingdom on horseback.

Sadly, on the way, the Malinkés attacked the duo, and in the fight, the soldier died. Yennenga was lucky, managing to escape to the north.

By the following morning, the beautiful princess and her stallion were exhausted from the long journey. Crossing the forest, Yennega saw a solitary cabin and decided to take refuge.

She went ahead and bent over to tether her horse to a tree near the cabin. But on standing back up, a man stood behind her, with a load of wood in his arms, as though he was going to make a fire. Thinking it could have been an enemy, Yennenga tried to run from him. She was too weak to fight him, and flight was her only option.

But the man held her and explained he wasn’t intending to harm her. His name was Riale.

Riale fed the princess, and in the course of the day, the two found love in each other.

Back home, Yennenga’s father, the king, had gone from fury to gloom. He had heard of how his daughter escaped the palace, but when he received news of the death of the man who had helped her escape, he feared the worst had happened. The thought his daughter was dead too.

After two years, Yennenga showed up, with a baby boy in her arms and a nice man by her side. Tears of joy flowed as the king welcomed his lost daughter.

Soon afterward, the king realized that his previous fears of losing his daughter if she got married had no basis. Yennenga, even though with her own family to run now, still helped in state matters, including coming up with effective plans to conquer enemies and expand the kingdom.

When the king finally died, Yennenga’s son, Ouedraogo, ascended the throne. Yennenga, now the queen mother, helped him found the famous Mossi Kingdom, which was the precursor to Burkina Faso.

Today, Yennenga is revered as a perfect symbol of the power and beauty of the African woman. The Mossi people of Burkina Faso consider Yennenga the mother of their empire. And for that, many statues of this strong and beautiful warrior princess can be seen in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital. In fact, the nation’s football team, Les Étalons, is named after Yennenga’s stallion.

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