Many assume that African women did not play an intellectual or political role before the modern period. Taking advantage of rare sources in Portuguese, Latin, and Gəʿəz, this article analyzes European and African texts written in the 1600s about Ethiopian royal women who led their people in resisting Portuguese proto-colonialism. The texts display quite different perspectives on the women, but they agree that women participated in defeating this European incursion. Comparing the two traditions reveals that the negative Portuguese representations of these Ethiopian royal women were not just the result of misogyny, but werea vanquished foe’s bitter depiction of a victorious enemy. Indeed, these early modern African women must be acknowledged as some of the earliest pioneers against European incursions in Africa. This article focuses on the extraordinary, larger-than-life stories of six such women.


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pp. 121-166
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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