The Strong Woman Behind the Baoulé of Côte d’Ivoire

St. Paul's Cathedral, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

This lovely image from a stained glass window in St. Paul’s Cathedral portrays a strong African woman.

Unfortunately, outsiders tend to imagine Africa as one big, homogenous continent. I am sure that, logically, most folks realize these perceptions must be gross generalizations. However, in the absence of more robust information, it’s difficult to imagine this rich continent in all of its diversity.

One of the generalizations I’ve heard over and over again is that Africa is a sexist continent where women are oppressed and disempowered. While this statement, sadly, reflects the reality of many women in Africa (and in other parts of the world), it has always struck me as a deeply flawed and unfortunate generalization.

Some very large West African ethnic groups, including the Akan of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, are actually matriarchal societies. I thought you might enjoy learning about one of the founding mothers of modern Côte d’Ivoire — a queen named Abla Pokou.

Queen Abla Pokou, Mother of the Baoulé People

The Baoulé people originally lived in Ghana. This is where Abla Pokou was born early in the 18th century. She was the niece of King Osei Tutu, founder of the Ashanti confederation of Ghana. After his death, her brother (who, as the son of the King’s sister, had the strongest claim on the throne) became embroiled in a fierce battle for succession with one of his uncles. Sadly, Abla Pokou’s brother was killed in battle.

Upon learning of his death, Abla Pokou knew that she and her family, and all of her brother’s supporters, must flee for their lives. They fled west from Koumassi, just barely managing to stay ahead of the army that pursued them.

However, when they reached the Comoé river, which separates Côte d’Ivoire from Ghana, it was swollen and turbulent due to the seasonal rains. With no time to lose, the queen was ultimately compelled to sacrifice her own child to the river spirits, saying

“Kouakou, my only child, forgive me, but I have understood that I must sacrifice you for the survival of our tribe. More than a woman, or a mother, a queen is a queen, first and foremost.”

As soon as her sacrifice was complete, the river became as still as glass and she led her people to a land of peace and safety. The word baoulé means “the little one dies” and to this very day Queen Abla Pokou is remembered with reverence and love for sacrificing her beloved child for the salvation of her people who have grown and flourished in Côte d’Ivoire.

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4 responses to “The Strong Woman Behind the Baoulé of Côte d’Ivoire

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