Princess Yennenga: the Dagomba warrior whose son founded Burkina Faso 

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Yennenga

For over a millennium, the Mossi Kingdom present-day Burkina Faso never existed. Its existence could be traced to a princess named Yennenga who ran away from her home, married an elephant hunter with whom she bore a son. 

Legends have it that Princess Yennenga was the beloved daughter of King Nedega of the Dagomba Kingdom, who reigned in the 12th century. Princess Yennenga was not only an epitome of beauty, but was also a cultural icon and warrior. At age 14, she fought against the neighbouring village, the Malinkes.

She was skillful in javelins, spears and bows with a battalion army under her command. Her prowess as a horsewoman and as a fighter earned her respect by all and loved some more by her father.

When she was due for marriage, her father refused to let her out in marriage for fear of losing his best fighter and daughter. Upon seeing this, Yennenga became sad because it was one of her dreams to get married and have kids. 

In order to exhibit her level of dissatisfaction with her father’s decision, Yennenga planted a field of wheat and when it was due for harvest, she let them rot in the fields instead of harvesting them. 

Her father who was amazed by that and asked her why she allowed that, responded that he was doing the same thing to her by stopping her from getting married. Upon hearing this, her father imprisoned her for her insolence.

No account of how long Princess Yennenga was locked up before she was saved by a horseman who dressed her as a man in order to help her escape was recorded.

While on the run, they were attacked by Malinke warriors. Her saviour fought against the warriors, distracting them from Yennenga. She rode north but was utterly worn out after crossing a river. Afterwards, she headed to the unknown forest where she met an elephant hunter named Riale. 

Riale was captivated by Princess Yennenga’s beauty despite disguising as a man. Both fell in love at first sight and later had a son whom they named Ouedraogo, meaning stallion. 

Years passed as Ouedraogo became a man, he left his parents and travelled north, where he formed the kingdom of Tenkodogo, which is regarded as the cradle of the Mossi Kingdoms.

History accounts that Ouedraogo visited King Nadega, his grandfather who had been searching for his daughter all these years. Upon discovering his daughter was alive, he made a feast and sent a delegate to request Yennenga to return home.

Riale and Yenenga were welcomed with open arms by her father, who not only oversaw the training of his grandson but also gifted him a cavalry, cattle and other goods, with which he used in setting up his kingdom.

This is why Princess Yennenga was referred to has “Mother of the Mossi People”. She has been honoured with a number of erected statues and roads have been named after her in Burkina Faso. Also, the  Burkinabe national football team is referred to as Les Étalons (The Stallions) after Yennenga’s famous horse.

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