Africana Woman author Cynthia Jacobs Carter
Cover for Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time (National Geographic 2003)
Through the ages, women of African descent have inspired and awed the world. These daughters of Africa — ranging from Queen Makeda of Sheba to political pioneer and U.S. congresswoman Barbara Jordan to songbird Alicia Keys — have greatly influenced the social, political and cultural climate of the globe.
African-American historian and professor Cynthia Jacobs Carter, in collaboration with National Geographic books, pays tribute to black women in her book Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time — a collection of journal excerpts, songs, poetry and photographs honoring centuries of progress by black women.
Carter spoke with NPR's Tavis Smiley about her book and the stories that inspired her — read an excerpt below:
From Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time:
Hundreds of years after Hatshepsut, Tiye, and Makeda had become part of Africana history, Yennenga of West Africa came forth. According to oral histories passed down from generation to generation, Yennenga was born the daughter of King Madega of Dogomba, a kingdom that covered much of present-day Ghana. It is believed she lived some time between the 11th and 15th centuries.
The histories tell us of Yennenga's strength of character and loyalty to her father. She commanded her own battalion and the royal guard. Yennenga performed many heroic acts in defense of her father's kingdom, frequently fighting by her father's side. However, as she grew into a young woman she longed for more than the glory of battle. She wished for a family. She made her father aware of her feelings, yet he quickly dismissed any suitors that dared approach. Yennenga decided to chart her own destiny.
One night, dressed as a man and escorted by loyal retainers, she left home on the back of a wild stallion. The party traveled for days. Then one night, exhausted, Yennenga could go no further; she and her entourage happened upon a tent in a region peopled by the Bousanc — and stopped. Still in disguise, Yennenga accepted the hospitality of the owner. He was Raile, a Mande prince in exile from Malil, where his father had been deposed. Legend has it that Yennenga kept her true identity hidden. She stayed with Raile for days, listening to him talk about his conquests on elephant hunts. Finally, her long hair fell from under her helmet, revealing her to be a beautiful princess, not a prince as Raile had believed.
From the book Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time by Cynthia Jacobs Carter. Copyright ©2003 National Geographic Society. Text copyright ©2003 Cynthia Jacobs Carter. All rights reserved.