Mandume and the Ovambo Resistance to Portuguese Colonialism in Angola

King Mandume ya Ndemufayo, portrait extracted from a photograph of the King with British representatives in South Africa

Mandume, king of the Cuanhama (Oukwanyama) principal subgroup of the Ovambo in Southern Angola, was one of the last and most important resistance leader against Portuguese conquest in Angola. By the size of his army, he could be compared to Samori Touré, but he did not have the same historic aura or military genius and given his very short life, he has remained unknown to many. Yet, in 1915, he held in his hands for 10 days the scourge of the balance of power in Southern Angola directly, and indirectly in Angola as a whole. Mandume is celebrated by many nationalists in Luanda as one of their heroes because he fought against Portuguese advances inside Angolan territory. He was a leader of the Ovambo resistance, defending the independence of his people, the Cuanhama so as not to get absorbed within Angola. Given European drawing of African boundaries during the 1884 Berlin Conference, the Cuanhama found themselves between areas of Portuguese West Africa (Angola) and German South West Africa (Namibia); thus Mandume has also entered the pantheon of the Namibian resistance. Who was Mandume?

King Mandume ya Ndemufayo, probably in Oihole, sometime before 1916

Mandume ya Ndemufayo was a simple ethno-nationalist, who refused to be colonized and had about 35,000 to 40,000 armed fighters; more than any Angolan nationalists ever had before 1974. He took over the reins of the Cuanhama kingdom in 1911 and his reign lasted until 1917 when he died of either suicide or machine gun fire while under attack from South African forces. Ya Ndemufayo grew up during a time of significant upheaval in the Oukwanyama kingdom due to the presence of European merchants and missionaries. As King Nande’s nephew (his mother was the king’s sister), he was third in line for succession to the Kwanyama throne. To protect his life as royal child heir to the throne, Mandume had to live in various homesteads. King Nande died on 5 February 1911 and Mandume succeeded him at barely 18 years old. Immediately upon ascending the throne, he moved the royal residence to Ondjiva (now in Angola). He could be thought of as a neo-traditionalist leader, who, even though he studied in the German mission schools, he spoke German, and a bit of Portuguese, and championed the independence of his people. Strongly anti-European, he expelled Portuguese traders from Kwanyama territory to denounce price inflation. Given the great drought and famine which lasted from 1911 to 1916, Mandume issued decrees prohibiting the picking of unripened fruits to protect against droughts and the unneeded use of firearms, an important commodity obtained from European traders. Significantly, he also issued harsh penalties for the crime of rape and allowed women to own cattle, which was previously illegal. Overall, King Mandume sought to restore previous Kwanyama wealth and prosperity against a decaying system of local leadership. Ya Ndemufayo had a reputation for expelling Christians within the Oukwanyama kingdom. Numerous Christian families fled to the Ondonga kingdom of the Ovambos. Ya Ndemufayo did not favor Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries as well as German Rhenish Missionary Society Protestants within his kingdom. In some European archives, it is said that he was a tyrant, but it is unclear whether it is European propaganda (a case of the hunter telling the story of the hunt) or reality.

Flag of Ovamboland

Before Mandume, previous Cuanhama kings had fought valiantly against Portuguese invasion of their land, King Weyulu from 18851904, his brother King Nande (1904 – 1911); unfortunately, they all in the end saw no choice to the inevitable Portuguese colonization. Mandume rejected the idea of Portuguese colonial rule and demanded to be on equal terms with the colonial rulers in their distant capitals.

King Mandume with his warriors in Oihole in 1916

No European colonizer seriously challenged the well-organized and well-armed Ovambo kingdoms until 1915 and the beginning of World War I which coincided with a massive local drought. During the Battle of Omongwa in August 1915, ya Ndemufayo and the Kwanyama’s resisted a Portuguese attack led by Pereira de’Eça for three days. On 20 August, Mandume assembled several thousand men and attacked the Portuguese camp shouting “The land does not belong to the white[s]!”. After 10 hours of fighting, the Ovambo were forced to retreat due to a lack of supplies including the water which they had lost. In total, the Portuguese took 35 casualties and 57 wounded; while the Ovambo lost 25 and had 100 wounded. After the battle, the Portuguese also started claiming that German forces were helping the Ovambo because it was unimaginable to them that Africans were able to wage war like Europeans. Simultaneously, the South African forces peacefully conquered the portion of the Oukwanyama kingdom formerly located in German South West Africa; this was at a time when Germany lost the first world war, and thus all its African colonies. German South West Africa’s administration was taken over by the Union of South Africa (part of the British Empire) and the territory was administered as South West Africa under a League of Nations mandate. Due to losses and lack of water, ya Ndemufayo first relocated the Kwanyama capital to an area south called Oihole, and then later into South West Africa. He used the border line to conduct attacks against Portuguese who were encroaching on his old territory in Southern Angola. However his attacks of Portuguese interests from his territory in South West Africa were not appreciated by the South African authorities who summoned him to Windhoek where he refused to go. In February 1917, after ya Ndemufayo refused to submit to South African control, he died in battle against the South Africans who had mounted an attack against him. The cause of his death is disputed; South African records show his death from machine-gun fire, while oral and popular history described his death as suicide, after being wounded so he could not be taken in by enemy forces. After his death, the South African administration abolished the Kwanyama-Kingship which was only restored in 1998, after over 8 decades

Mandume Ndemufayo Ave in Windhoek, Namibia

Today, Mandume Ya Ndemufayo is honored as a national hero in both Angola and Namibia. He is one of nine national heroes of Namibia that were identified at the inauguration of the country’s Heroes’ Acre near Windhoek. Namibia’s Founding President Sam Nujoma remarked in his inauguration speech on 26 August 2002 that: It is better to die fighting than to become a slave of the colonial forces.” — These were the defiant words of one of Namibia’s foremost anti-colonialist fighters. He said these words in defiance when the combined [European] colonial forces insisted he should surrender. […] To his revolutionary spirit and his visionary memory we humbly offer our honor and respect.

Early resistant, bronze plaque for King Mandume ya Ndemufayo at the Independence Museum in Windhoek, Namibia

The 100th anniversary of the death of Oukwanyama King Mandume ya Ndemufayo on February 2017 was attended by thousands of Namibians at Omhedi in the Ohangwena region including former Namibian presidents, where President Hage Geingob unveiled a bust of King Mandume. If you ever visit Windhoek, Namibia, make sure to walk along the street named after King Mandume, or visit the Universidade Mandume ya Ndemufayo in Angola. Please check out the article “The Legacy of legendary Oukwanyama King still vivid“, the article from The Namibian, Order out of chaos: Mandume Ya Ndemufayo and Oral History by Patricia Hayes, and lastly Les Africains Tome 8, editions J.A. p.207 (1977) to learn more about this great last resistant to Portuguese colonial advances in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia.

Samori Touré: African Leader and Resistant to French Imperialism!

Samori Touré

This post on Samori Touré has been an all-time favorite post on . I am reblogging it here, because on this 10-year anniversary of the African Heritage Blog, it has been the most viewed and loved article. As you know, Samori Touré, grandfather to the African president Sekou Touré (another resistant to French imperialism – Guinea: the country who dared say ‘NO’ to France), was a leader and ruled over a vast empire which spanned big areas of West Africa from Guinea all the way to modern-day Côte d’Ivoire. He was a strong fighter to France imperialism in Africa, and opposed a great resistance to the French several times. This is to one of Africa’s great kings, warriors, and resistant.

African Heritage

Samori Toure holding the Coran

One of the great kings, and fighters of African freedom was the great Samori Touré. Over 100 years ago, Samori Touré was captured by the French and deported to Gabon where he died of pneumonia.

But who was Samori Touré?

Well, Samori Touré was born in 1830 in Manyambaladugu (some texts mentionSanankoro instead), a village southeast of Kankan in present-day Guinea. Samori was a great warrior who fought imperialism in the 19th century such as many leaders today. He refused to submit to French colonization and thus chose the path of confrontation using warfare and diplomacy.

Until the age of 20, Samori was a trader. After his mother was captured in a slave raid by the king Sori Birama, he offered to serve in his army and excelled by his military prowess and skills.

Samori Touré had a vision of unity for the Malinké people, and…

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Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer, the Embodiment of Algerian Resistance against French Colonization

Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer (19th century)
Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (19th century)

Today’s post will be dedicated to a great resistant and leader of Africa, the great Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (also known as Lalla Fatma N’Soumer), an important figure of resistance against French invasion in Algeria.  Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer has been seen as the embodiment of the Algerian struggle.  The war of colonization in Algeria was one of the most brutal and repressive in Africa; it is said that Algeria lost 1/3 of its population between 1830 and 1872.  The war was quite atrocious, and very often we are told of the courage and charisma of leaders such as the emir Abdel Kader, but often in history books, the names of heroines like Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer are forgotten or simply erased.

Fadhma N'Soumer
Fadhma N’Soumer

Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer was born in Werja, a village near Ain El Hammam in 1830, the year French occupation started in Algeria.  She was from KabylieLalla, the female equivalent of sidi, is an honorific reserved for women of high rank, or who are venerated as saints.  Her real name was Fadhma Nat Si Hmed.  The title, N’Soumer, was given to her because of her piety and strength and because she lived in the village of Soumer.  Fadhma was the daughter of cheikh Ali Ben Aissi, who headed a Qur’anic school, which was linked with the Zawyia Rahmaniya of Sidi Mohamed Ibn Abderrahmane Abu Qabrein.  Young Fadhma was extremely gifted, and memorized the Qur’an simply by listening to her father’s disciples when they chanted the various surats.  After her father’s death, Fadhma directed the Qur’anic school with her brother Si Mohand Tayeb.  She took special care of the children and the poor.  She was known for her great piety, notable wisdom, piercing intelligence, and had an excellent reputation throughout the Kabylie region.

Battle of Somah in 1836 (by Horace Vernet)
Battle of Somah in 1836 (by Horace Vernet)

Fadhma was only 16 when the French occupied Kabylie.  In 1847, she joined the resistance leaders of the region: Si Mohamed El-Hachemi and Mohamed El Amdjed Ibn Abdelmalek (nicknamed Bou-Baghla).  Bou-Baghla was probably an ex-lieutenant in the army of Emir Abdelkader, defeated for the last time by the French in 1847.  Refusing to surrender, Bou Baghla retreated to Kabylie.  From there, he began a war against the French armies and their allies, often employing guerilla tactics.  He was a relentless fighter, very eloquent, and very religious.  Fadhma and Bou-Baghla were kindred spirits fighting for the freedom of their people.  After Bou-Baghla’s death in 1854, Fadhma was given command of combat by the great council of combatants and important figures of the Kabylie’s tribes.

She led a strong resistance against Marshal Jacques Louis Randon’s 13,000-strong French army.  She gave them a lesson of courage, and determination.  Armed with an unshakable faith, Fadhma threw herself in bloody battles to push back the enemy.  During the battle of Tachekkirt, led by Bou-Baghla at the time, Randon was captured, but managed to escape later.  During the famous battle of Oued Sebaou, Fadhma was only 24 years old, and headed an army of men and women; she took control, and led her people to victory, a victory heralded throughouth Kabylie. The mosques, zawiyas, and Qur’anic schools sang praises in honor of the heroine of the Djurdjura.

Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer during battle
Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer during battle (in reality, it is said that she never used weapons)

Not willing to accept defeat, Randon asked for reinforcements, with his forces reaching 35,000 men.  He asked the people of Azazga to help him reach Fadhma N’Soumer’s quarters, to end “her legend, and misdeeds.”  The response to his emissary was “Go to the one who sent you, and tell him our ears cannot hear the language of him who asks us to betray.”  Such was the loyalty and respect of the people for Fadhma.  In response, Randon promised the people of Azazga constant exposure to his cannons.  One can only imagine the brutality of the French against the Azazga people, which were later defeated.  Fadhma did not give up, and mobilized her people to “fight for Islam, the land, and liberty. They are our constant, and they are sacred. They can neither be the object of concessions nor haggling.”  Her strong personality and inspirational speeches had a strong influence in all of Kabylie, as shown by the sacrifice and determination of the people during all the battles, especially those of Icherridene and Tachkrit,where the enemy troops were greatly defeated.  The latter took place on July 18 – 19, 1854, and resulted in a heavy death toll (over 800 dead) for the French troops.

Monument celebrating Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer, in Algiers
Monument celebrating Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer, in Algiers

Defeated, Randon finally asked for a ceasefire, which Fadhma N’Soumer agreed to.  She was planning to use the ceasefire period to improve her organization and reinforce her troops.  Fields were plowed and sowed, and arms factories were installed in all corners of the region.  However, just like with Samori Toure, or Behanzin, the French did not respect the ceasefire.  In 1857, after only three years, they broke their word (as always) and launched offensives in all large cities which had been hard to overtake until then.  History will record that the French were always people of no word during the colonization (and even today); they used every sneaky technique they could find to eliminate others… and even with all their ‘superior’ gunpower, and manpower, they could not have won against our great African leaders without using treachery, and treason.

Poem dedicated to Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer (from Poésies populaires de la Kabylie du Jurjura, Paris 1867)
Poem dedicated to Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (from Poésies populaires de la Kabylie du Jurjura, Paris 1867)

Fadhma N’Soumer, whose influence motivated the freedom fighters, appealed to the people for a last and supreme effort. Surrounded by women of the region, Lalla Fadhma directed the fight and encouraged remaining volunteers.  However, they lost the battle, and Fadhma was arrested on 27 July 1857, in the village of Takhlijt Ath Atsou, near Tirourda.  The French soldiers destroyed her rich library, which contained a rich source of scientific and religious works from the region.  They also spent her fortune, which had been used toward caring for the disciples of her father’s zawiya.  Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer died in 1863, from the hardship of incarceration in Béni Slimane, from the news of her brother’s passing, and the frustration from her inability to act against French aggression on her people.  She was only 33 years old.  The enemy (the French) nicknamed her, the Joan of Ark of the Djurdjura, a comparison that the religious Fadhma never accepted.

To read more about French invasion of Algeria, check out Mediapart.  Watch the video below to learn more about Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (It has 5 parts, and is very instructive).  Whenever you think of resistance in Africa, please do remember Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer who by her courage, piety, strength, and charisma was able to defeat the mighty French army, and capture a French marshal/general.  Remember that there was a woman who held a rich library of scientific and religious works which was destroyed by the French army (it must have been full of treasures for them to destroy).  Remember that this woman served the people, and love them dearly to sacrifice her life for their freedom.  Remember, yes, that a woman led men and women to battles, and actually won!