Queen Huda Sha’arawi (Crown Her Series)

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Huda Sha’arawi was a pioneering Egyptian feminist leader, nationalist, suffragette and founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union. Born on June 23, 1879 in Minya, Egypt, she was educated at an early age along with her brothers studying various subjects such as calligraphy and grammer in French, Turkish and Arabic. Her childhood was spent secluded in her upper-class Egyptian community. After her father’s death, she was under guardianship of her eldest cousin, Ali Sha’awari. At thirteen she was married and according to Margaret Badran, a “subsequent separation from her husband gave her time for an extended formal education, as well as an unexpected taste of independence.” She was then taught to read the Quran and had received tutoring in Quranic Arabic and Islamic subjects by female teachers in Cairo. Sha’awari later recounted her early life in her memoir, Mudhakkirati (My Memoir) which was translated and abridged into the English version Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879-1924.

Huda Sha’awari brought light to the restrictive world of upper class women in her book The Harem Years, published in 1987 and also influenced not only women in Egypt but throughout the Arab world. Huda was raised in the Harem system, which kept women secluded and veiled. Very wealthy families would have separate eunuchs and buildings to guard the women and act as their messengers to the outer world. The word “harem” actually refers to the rooms in which the women stayed, separate from the men. With the exception of peasant women in the countryside, all women, rich or poor went outside veiled. Veiling and the harem system were cultural traditions, and were followed by Christian and Jewish women as well as Muslim.

Huda was able to be independent after separating from her husband. She became involved in activism and extended her education. Huda had a hand in many “firsts” for women in Egyptian society. In 1908, she founded the first philanthropic society run by Egyptian women, where they offered services for poor women and their children.  She believed that having women run such projects would challenge the view that women are in need of protection and created for men’s pleasure. In 1910, she opened a school for girl’s focused on academics, rather that teaching the practical skills of the day like midwifery. She brought women out of their homes and into public places by organizing lectures for women on various topics. In 1919, she helped to organize the largest women’s anti- British demonstration and in 1923 she founded the Egyptian Feminist Union which is still active today. They focused on various issues including women’s education and suffrage.

In 1923, she made a decision she is now famous for which was after her husband died she returned to Egypt after attending a woman’s conference in Europe, stepping off the train back in Cairo, she removed her veil in front of the crowd in public. Everyone was shocked at first but after a few moments, the crowd broke into cheers and applause. Some women joined her in removing their own veils and within a decade of Huda’s act of defiance, few women still chose to wear the veil. Huda Sha’awari continued to lead the Egyptian Feminist Union until her death, organizing and demonstrating the fight for women’s rights in the new Egypt. She represented Egypt at women’s conferences around the world, advocating for disarmament and peace. With her unique blend of western-style feminism with her own country’s customs, culture and Egyptian Nationalism, Huda Sha’awari influenced millions of Arab women and people all around the world.

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Queen Teresa de Benguela (Crown Her Series)

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The heroic queen of Quilombo Quaritere origins are believed to be an African from Angola embarked at the port of Benguela. However some historians believes she was born in Brazil. She commanded in the Vale do Guapore region, in Vila Bela da Santissima Trinadade during the 18th century, in what is now known as the state of Mato Grosso, almost on the border of Bolivia. Queen Teresa was married to Jose Piolho, who headed the Quilombo do Piolho (or do Quaritere), between the Guapore River and Cuiaba city. Following his death, Teresa became the queen of the quilombo, and under her leadership, the black and indigenous community resisted slavery for two decades surviving up to 1770.

Queen Teresa led the political, administrative and economical structure of the quilombo, maintaining a defense system with guns redeemed from the nearby villages or traded with white society. Teresa herself headed up some of these trading missions. Stolen objects used against the black community that used to take refugees there were transformed into work instruments, because they knew how to work with forge. The quilombo do Guaritere, the parliament and a queen counselor, sold food, developed cotton production and owned looms where they produced fabric that was commercialized outside the quilombos. On appointed days of every week, deputies entered and Queen Teresa governed this quilombo as a Parliament. Teresa also applied harsh punishments.

There lived blacks who escaped forced labor in the gold mines and precious stones that were recently discovered in the area- another Brazilian gold rush, less remembered than that of the Mines. The population included Indians and Mestizos and reached 300 people. In it’s first decade, while the Portugese government was still unaware of it’s location, the traditional scheme was sufficient for the community to resist. The Amazon provided conditions for the existence of quilombo, even making it difficult to retaliate on the part of the slave system. The increase in mineral exploration in the region increases the flow of enslaved blacks and fugitives in the area. The Portugese siege intensifies.

The formula that worked until then, is no longer sufficient. Many flee to Spanish domains. For those who stay, serious changes. The quilombo was destroyed by the military forces of Luiz Pinto de Souza Countinho. The entire population was killed or arrested. July 25 is instituted as the Teresa de Benguela National Day and the Black Woman Day in Brazil.

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Queen Nefertiti (Crown Her Series)

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Neferneferuaten Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal wife of Akhenaten, as well as an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti, whose name means “a beautiful woman has come,” ruled with her husband during the 14th century (1353-1336 BCE). Little is known about the origins of Nefertiti, but her legacy of power and beauty continue to intrigue scholars today. Evidence suggests that she hailed from the town Akhmim and is the daughter or niece of a high official named Ay. Other theories have suggested that she was born in a foreign country, possibly Syria.

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Nefertiti was one of the most mysterious and powerful women in ancient Egypt. The exact date when Nefertiti married Amenhotep III’s son, the pharoah Amenhotep IV is unknown. It is believed she was 15 when they wed which may have been before Akhenaten assumed the throne. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a revolution of religion. They worshipped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and Nerfertiti changed hers to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti to honor the deity.  It is believed that the king and queen were priests and that it was only through them that ordinary citizens could obtain access to Aten. They reigned in at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

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The king and his head queen were seemingly inseparable in reliefs, they were often shown riding in chariots together and even kissing in public. It’s been stated that the couple may have had a genuine romantic connection, a dynamic not generally seen in depictions of ancient pharaohs. They had six daughters, with speculation that they may have also had a son. Artwork from the day depicts the couple and their daughters in an unusually individualistic and naturalistic style, more so from earlier eras. The world famous bust of Nefertiti was found in 1912 by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, found during his excavations of Tell el-Amarna, the new capital city founded by Akhenaten, “Suddenly we had the most alive Egyptian artwork in our hands, Ludwig Borchardt wrote in his diary for 1912. You cannot describe it in words. You can only see it.”

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Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferaten after her husbands death and before the ascension of Tutankhamun. Nefertiti did rule as Pharaoh, her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and relocation of the capital back to the traditional city of Thebes. In several reliefs, she is shown wearing thrown of a pharaoh or smiting her enemies in battle. Despite this great power, Nefertiti disappears from all depictions after 12 years. The reasons for her disappearance is unknown. Some scholars believed she died, while others speculate she was elevated to the status of coregent- equal in power to the pharaoh- and begun to dress herself as a man. Other theories suggest she became known as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, ruling Egypt after her husband’s death or that she was exiled when the worship of deity Amen-Ra came back into vogue.

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Queen Manthatisi (Crown Her Series)

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Queen Manthatisi is known by few but was a warrior who led men to protect the Tlokwa people in the 1800’s. The name alone Queen Manthatisi was feared and dreaded in the early 19th century. As a warrior she led strong men to ward off enemies including British invaders and protected her territory during the southern African slave trade. In the midst of the Mfecane/Difaqne wars, a period of mass migration, Manthatisi used her bravery, power, dedication and staunch character to keep her people together. She was not only a queen, but the very soul of the army and was very influential across southern Africa in her time. Manthatisi tribe became known as Balefe and during her reign, they became to be known as boo-Manthatisi or Manthatee Horde by the English. Historians have described her as “beautiful, regal, powerful, and intelligent.” She was known as a capable, strong and brave leader in times of peace and war.  Some chiefs surrounded her instead of going to war with her.

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Queen Manthatisi had came to power as the regent for her son Sekonyela following the death of her husband Kgosi Mokotjo. She shot to fame because Sekonyela was too young to rule and after her husband had paved the way for a very young Sekonyela to take over. Manthtisi had to step in quickly as the regent of Batlokoa- near present day Lesotho. This was the beginning of her story and her entry into the history books. In her early life she was born Monyalue, and was the daughter of Mothaha, a chief of the Sia tribe. She was born in what is now South Africa’s Free State Province, in the area of the present-day town of Harrismith. She was described as a tall, attractive, light in complexion, beautiful girl. She was said to have good manners and was admired for her intelligence. At a young age she was married off to a cousin named Mokotjo, who was the chief of the Batlokwa. The two had a daughter Nthatisi, and two sons, Sekonyela and Mota.

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Her kingdom had come under intense attack by AmaHlubi (led by Mpangazitha) and AmaNgwane. They attacked Manthatisi and her followers in the early hours of the morning as to catch them off guard. Although unprepared, her brave warriors fought Mpangazitha and his troops. Yet in this one night, the world of Batlokwa would be changed forever. Their attacks were so furious that Manthatisi and her followers were forced to flee and abandon all their possessions. They lost most of their family members,  their homes, and most of their cattle and possessions. Manthatisi ended up leading her followers westward and do what her people were known for, which was to fight. A number of smaller tribes joined her and under her leadership in search of relative security. The tribe grew and wrecked havoc for Sotho tribes. Manthatisi became so powerful, she ruled over 40,000 people. She exercised her duties as a chief, consulted elders for advice, advancing her political and military authority and adjucating disputes. Her subjects started to referring to themselves as Manthatisis, a tribute given to powerful chiefs.

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Queen Puabi (Crown Her Series)

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Queen Puabi, who was also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, (the excavator) was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, (2600 B.C.). Several sealed cylinders found in her tomb identify her by the title “bin” or “eresh” which means queen or priestess. The discovery of great of Puabi’s tomb and it’s death pit reveals important information as well as raises questions about Mesopotamian society and culture. A large portion of ancient Mesopotamia is now covered by the country of Iraq. Near Euphrates and Tigris rivers is known as the “Cradle of Civilization,” and it was here that the first ever Mesopotamian civilizations: Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians were born. The Sumerians settled in Mesopotamia about 4000BC, making them the first civilization in the world.  

At the Royal Cemetery, she was found with an ornate headdress that was made up of two strings of lapis and carnelian, and a large gold comb. She also wore necklaces, chokers and large lunate shaped earrings. Her upper body was covered in strands of beads made from semi precious and precious metals that stretched from her shoulders to her belt. Her fingers were decorated with 10 rings. A diadem made up of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads with gold pendants depicting animals and plants was apparently on a table near her head. In the chamber with Puabi were two attendants, one crouched by head and the other at her feet.

Her body was dug up at some point in the 20’s or 30’s. Various stone, metal and pottery vessels lasted around the walls. Her tomb was intact and it’s content we’re typical of the wealth of other royal tombs. Her body layer on a wooden bier in the chamber. Puabi’s seal does not place her in relation to any king or husband, which supports the theory she ruled on her own. This mysterious queen died while in her 40’s around 4500 years ago during the first dynasty.

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