Photo Essays

African Photographer Brings Women Back on the Frontline of African History

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African Photographer Brings Women Back on the Frontline of African History

Award-winning Kenyan photographer Richard Allela brings out the narrative of the powerful African queens during the Kingdom of Kush.

During 3 BC and 2 BC, the empire of Kush, which ruled across what is now considered modern day Egypt and Sudan, was lead by a line of “independent female rulers” who are referred to as the “Candaces” or “Kandake”.

The term “Candace” or “Kandake” is a title given to queens who ruled Meroe, the capital of the Kush Empire located east bank of the Nile in Sudan. These “Kandakes” ruled either independently or alongside their husbands. However, the true fascination is that some of these “Kandakes” were worrier queens who led their armies to war, many of them were notorious for riding fierce animals to the battle field.

Photo credit: Richard Allela

In the Bible, Philip the Apostle encounters “a eunuch of great authority” under her reign. She is referred to as  “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians”, a region which is considered modern day Sudan. The “Kandake” then converts him to Christianity according to Acts 8:27-39.

The region of Meroe was ruled by several “Kandakes” including Shanakdakhete, Amanirenas, Amanishakheto, Amanitore, Amantitere, Amanikhatashan, Maleqorobar, Lahideamani.

Photo credit: Richard Allela

Anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban who specializes in the region of Sudan writes in her paper Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History, “Meroë claims at least ten regnant queens during the 500-year period between 260 BC and 320 AD, and no fewer than six during the 140-year period between 60 BC and 80 AD.”

Several people have confused “Kandake”, a title, as a first name.

Records have shown that prior to King Ergamenes “Arkamani I” who ruled the kingdom from 295 BC to 275 BCE, “Kentake” similar to “Kandake” was used to women of royal decent. However, during his reign, King Ergamens reformed the monarchy and elevated the position of royal women giving them the opportunity and power to rule as his successors.

Photo credit: Richard Allela

This project was coincidentally released during the Sudanese revolution, where “Kandake” is a title given to female protesters. This drew the attention of several people who saw this title as a was to revived the history of “Kandakes”, the Nubian queens.

Africa’s history is predominantly recorded by non-Africans as a result of decades of colonization, so there is a growing movement in retelling the African narrative by natives. Allela is planning to highlight the power and influence different African kings and queens over their nations that resonates in my countries to this day.

Along with his colleague Kureng Dapel, Allela released a project ‘African Queens‘ depicting the life of the Kenyan icon, the warrior woman Mekatilili wa Menza, who freed Kenya from the British colonialists.

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