1850s Correspondence of Ndate Yalla Mbodj to the French Governor of Senegal

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj

I would like to share with you letters from Ndate Yalla Mbodj, the last Lingeer (Queen) of the Waalo, addressed to the French Governor of Senegal in the 1850s. These are treasures from history, and I thought it very interesting to translate them from French to English. Reading these letters, one can see the duplicity of the French who would take lands from the Waalo people without asking, and will treat the people of the Waalo with great disdain. These are from the National archives of Senegal. For the French version, visit: Seneweb.


National Archives of Senegal 13 G 91

Correspondence of the Kings of the Waalo

Letter number 85 received by the governor

of Saint Louis on May 23rd, 1851


Ndatte Yalla to Mr. the Governor,

The goal of this letter is to let you know that the island of Boyo* belongs to me, from my grandfather down to me today. There is nobody who can claim that that country belongs to them; it belongs to me only. I did not sell this country to anybody. I did not entrust it to anybody, nor to any white person. The people to whom I entrusted my land have to right to do anything to it, I will have nothing to say. Nobody can take this land without their authorization; to prove to you that this letter comes from me, when the dispute had been settled in Lampsar, you went back to the fort. There I came to see you with my husband, you were accompanied by Mr. Alsace and de Bamar, you told me that you wanted to see me alone to talk, I told you that there was only my husband and brother present.

You also asked me who was the King of the Waalo today. I replied that the King of the Waalo was me. If this is true, and this letter comes from me, I desire that no one should take possession of my territory.

The island of Boyo is located in Mauritania, 15 km north of Saint-Louis in Senegal. It houses the village of N’Diago. It is the cradle of the Boye family of Saint-Louis.

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Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj: Senegalese Queen leading the Resistance against French Colonization

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (from the cover of Kings and Queens of West Africa, by S. Diouf)

In 1855, when the French arrived to colonize Senegal, the first power of resistance they encountered was a woman. Her name was: Ndate Yalla Mbodj. While in France, women were not recognized as citizens until 90 years later, the French were stunned by this woman of beautiful stature, face, and strong body, and who headed an immense army. She was a beautiful and proud warrior, who inherited a rich tradition of bravery and gallantry.

The Lingeer or Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (1810 – 1860) was the last great queen of the Waalo, a kingdom in the northwest of modern-day Senegal.  She was a heroine of the resistance against French colonization and Moors invasion. She was also the mother of Sidya Leon Diop or Sidya Ndate Yalla Diop, who went on to become one the greatest resistants to the colonization of Senegal.

Map of Senegal
Map of modern-day Senegal

Queen Ndate succeeded to her sister Ndjeumbeut Mbodj. She was officially crowned Queen of the Waalo on October 1st 1846 in Ndar (now called Saint-Louis), the capital of the Waalo.  Her reign was marked by an ongoing defiance of the French against which she fought a fierce battle. By 1847, she opposed the free passage of Sarakolé people by sending a letter to the governor expressing her willingness to defend the respect of her sovereignty over the valley in these terms: “We guarantee and control the passage of cattle in our country and we will not accept it the other way. Each leader governs his country as he pleases.

Warrior from the Waalo Kingdom, 1846
Warrior from the Waalo Kingdom, 1846

She fought both the Moors who happen to encroach on her territory, and the colonialist army led by Louis Faidherbe, the butcher, and bandit, who later became governor of Saint-Louis and colonial head of administration and army. Almost 10 years into her reign in 1855, she encountered the greatest colonialist pirate Faidherbe, with an army of 15,000 strong, fully armed and ready to fight her, dethrone her, and colonize Waalo and Senegal. Faidherbe defeated her army in bloody battles, before capturing Saint-Louis. In February 1855, while the Faidherbe’s troops were entering the Waalo, the Lingeer spoke to the principal dignitaries of her country as such: “Today, we are invaded by the conquerors.  Our army is in disarray.  The tiedos of the Waalo, as brave warriors as they are, have almost all fallen under the enemy’s bullets.  The invader is stronger than us, I know, but should we abandon the Waalo to foreign hands?” (Aujourd’hui nous sommes envahis par les conquérants. Notre armée est en déroute. Les tiédos du Walo, si vaillants guerriers soient-ils, sont presque tous tombés sous les balles de l’ennemi. L’envahisseur est plus fort que nous, je le sais, mais devrions-nous abandonner le Walo aux mains des étrangers?) … “This country is mine alone!”

She eventually lost the battle, but not the war; which continued to be a war of resistance until the early part of the twentieth century by Lat Dior Diop, and many other ‘Gelewars’. This conquest would forever change the trajectory of her reign and the geopolitical, military, and geographical road map of Senegambia, “Ganaar” (now called Mauritania), Mali (formerly called French Sudan), and Fouta.

Senegambia in 1707, with the Kingdom of Waalo written as 'R. d'Oualle ou de Brak'
Senegambia in 1707, with the Kingdom of Waalo written as ‘R. d’Oualle ou de Brak’

Her father was Brak (King) Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and mother was Lingeer (Queen) Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mboge. Her son, Sidya Leon Diop, who would later too become an anti colonialist, and fight the French until his capture, and exile to die in Gabon in 1878. Her son Sidya was captured as a hostage in Saint-Louis by General Faidherbe during their bloody war with Ndate, and was baptized ‘Leone’ and sent to Algiers for schooling in 1861. When he returned to Senegal two years later in 1863, he was enlisted in the French colonial army; the first African or Senegalese to hold such a post. But as the saying goes —like mother, like son, he refused to do their dirty job of joining forces with the European colonial foreigners and mercenary apparatus, against his mother’s kingdom and people. He then changed strategy and rallied with Lat Dior Diop and others, which resulted in his betrayal, and capture by the colonial forces; and exile to Gabon (just like Samori Toure).

Ndate Yalla Mbodj
Ndate Yalla Mbodj

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, as a true ‘lingeer’, developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to recon with in her reign. The story of this Senegambia Queen is best amplified in oral tradition by the local griots. Her women army was similar to the “Amazon” women army of Benin, Behanzin’s fearless protective women’s army. She later went into exile in Ndimb in the northern part of the Waalo and died in Dagana, where today a statue has been erected in her honor (the only one erected in honor of a queen nationwide). To learn more, check out: Maafanta.com, Matricien.org, au-Senegal.com; the book Kings and Queens of West Africa by Sylviane Diouf has an entire chapter dedicated to this great queen.