Women's Activism NYC

Sarraounia Queen Of The Azna

1800 - 1900

By: Mafor Mambo Tse | Date Added:

At the closing of the 1800s, France had some of its all-time worst ambassadors plowing through Africa. Paul Voulet and Julien Chanoine, of the predictably-named Voulet-Chanoine Mission, were acting as if they were competing for a “most heinous atrocity” award. They’d put in a strong showing, going above their baseline of raping and pillaging by putting in the extra effort to burn entire villages to the ground and kill all the inhabitants therein. They’d become so villainous that their own soldiers defected, writing home in disgust about their monstrous crimes. They seemed unstoppable. And then they met Sarraounia Mangou Sarraounia (a title indicating a female chief, nowadays referring mostly to this Sarraounia) was the “panther queen” of the Azna people. Credited with sorcerous powers, she had been to the “protect my people” rodeo many times before — she’d first driven off the Tuareg, who routinely attempted raids on her village; then the Fulani people, who wanted to convert the Azna to Islam. She’d won peace with both of them, she reasoned – she would win peace with the French. But the French people in question, as previously established, were not the reasonable sort. Even though their travels did not need to bring them near Sarraounia’s village of Lougou (and despite Voulet’s advisors urging him to choose a different route) he decided to make a beeline for her. Sarraounia, in turn, reached out to her old enemies, the Fulani and Tuareg, and asked them to band together in fighting a common foe. Both replied no – the Fulani, with the less-than-neighborly missive of sending back her messenger’s head, sans body. Realizing the Azna would have to go it alone, she began to prepare. When the Voulet-Chanoine Mission’s “infernal column” fell upon her city, they met the strongest resistance they’d seen in their entire campaign, losing several men to the fighting… until the attacks suddenly ceased. Upon entering Lougou, Voulet stepped into a ghost town. Not only were all its inhabitants gone, but its granaries and animal pens were totally empty. The “sorceress queen” had disappeared into the wiBut the French people in question, as previously established, were not the reasonable sort. Even though their travels did not need to bring them near Sarraounia’s village of Lougou (and despite Voulet’s advisors urging him to choose a different route) he decided to make a beeline for her. Sarraounia, in turn, reached out to her old enemies, the Fulani and Tuareg, and asked them to band together in fighting a common foe. Both replied no – the Fulani, with the less-than-neighborly missive of sending back her messenger’s head, sans body. Realizing the Azna would have to go it alone, she began to prepare. From then on, Sarraounia and her people would raid them on a nightly basis, appearing from the tall grass and disappearing just as quickly. As talk of Sarraounia’s magic began making its way through the camp, morale plummeted. The conscripts — mostly Africans, often forced into service — began to have fitful nightmares and many deserted. Soon, the Voulet-Chanoine mission collapsed upon itself. France, having received word of the mission’s terrifying cruelty, sent out its local governor to get them to stop — only for Voulet to shoot the higher-ranking governor dead. Voulet proclaimed himself no longer French, but a black chief who would found an empire. This did not prove a popular sentiment with pretty much anyone. Within the month, both he and Chanoine had been assassinated by their own soldiers. All of which the Azna attributed to Sarraounia’s magical workings. The historical details of this story are difficult to piece together. Voulet, with France breathing down their neck and lacking any ambition to understand the local cultures, did not write much about the Azna, other than the amount of ammunition and lives spent on them. The Azna people passed down the tale of Sarraounia orally, although there appeared to have been a major break in said transmission when most of their storytellers were killed in subsequent fighting with the French. According to oral tradition, upon the final assault by the French, the panther queen of the Azna holed herself up in her palace for days. Then one day, without warning, the doors to her palace flew open – and a panther bounded out. It leapt over the ramparts and vanished into the brush. Soon thereafter they found that the palace was empty. Sarraounia was never seen again.The historical details of this story are difficult to piece together. Voulet, with France breathing down their neck and lacking any ambition to understand the local cultures, did not write much about the Azna, other than the amount of ammunition and lives spent on them. The Azna people passed down the tale of Sarraounia orally, although there appeared to have been a major break in said transmission when most of their storytellers were killed in subsequent fighting with the French. Her legacy was revived in the 1980s, starting with a novel based on her life, and followed by a high-profile movie. Her name graces children’s books, radio stations, gas stations, and even ballets.

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