Slave trafficking and slavery, practiced by Westerners in Africa and the Americas, was decreed by the United Nations in 2001 as a crime against humanity. During the 17th and 18th century periods of this shameful process, brave women of Kongo-Ndongo origin opposed the slave trade in what is now the Republic of Angola. One of them was the warrior Nzinga Mbandi, who managed to create the kingdom of Matamba. Mbandi set a standard that was followed by the legendary Kimpa Vita in the early 18th century; Kimpa Vita was later burned alive by the Portuguese—in complicity with the Roman Catholic Church—for having led insurrections against African enslavement in the former empire of Kongo Dia Ntotela.
The fighting spirit of these two Africans became a moral example to the many women subjected to cruel enslavement in the Americas and the Caribbean; it pushed them to rise up against the slave system.
In Jamaica, Nanny, of Ashanti origin, led an army against British slavery. In Haiti, we have the vodún priestess, Cecile Fattime, who sparked a rebellion against the French at the end of the 18th century. In the United States, the rebel
Harriet Tubman, at the beginning of the 19th century, developed an extraordinary network to free the enslaved, transporting them clandestinely to Canada where slavery had been abolished in 1833. This network was called the Underground Railroad, it was neither a train nor a subway but rather an intelligent system of routes and safe houses used to free enslaved people from different states of the U.S. It was based on a knowledge of geography, as well as the topography and names of places.
In Venezuela, there were self-liberated African women—women we call: cimarronas—who suffered the same fate as African men. Such were the cases for Manucha Algarín who established the Cumbe de Ocoyta rebel settlement alongside her husband, Guillermo Rivas in 1768 and Josefina Sánchez who was part of the formation of the Cumbe de Taguaza, both of which are currently in the city of Acevedo in the state of Miranda: they were clear examples of the rebel leadership of female Afrodescendants.
The moral contributions of Manucha Algarín, Josefina Sánchez, Queen Guiomar (who rebelled against enslavement alongside King Miguel in the Venezuelan mountains of Buría in the mid-1500s) as well as the passive resistance of the enslaved María Dolores (wife of José Leonardo Chirino who took part in the 1795 uprising against slavery in Santa Ana de Coro, Venezuela), were not in vain, because they remained as references of struggle and proved that the chains, the rapes and the racism we faced were not barriers against our aspirations to freedom.
The official, racist, and sexist history only notes that white men have struggled for liberation.
The history that is still taught in our schools is directed by the vision of those in control, despite the effort we have made from the Afrodescendant community to restructure these official texts. Those are the books that still exist in our libraries, and they help to reaffirm racism in our girls and boys.
But there were thousands of women who were enslaved and who actively participated in the struggle to free Black people: they took on roles as nurses as well as soldiers—handling rifles, shooting cannons, wielding swords, and taking part in hand-to-hand combat…This is not something many of our official historiographies talk about.
That is why with Women’s Day celebrated March 8, and during this Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight the role played by African women and their descendants in creating the world we live in today.
Jesús “Chucho” Garcia is a Venezuelan writer and activist who has served as a diplomat in Venezuela’s embassies in Angola, Zambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Mali and Burkina Faso. “Chucho” Garcia also served as general consul of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in New Orleans, he is founder of the Afro-Venezuelan Network and works with the Fundación Afroamerica y Diaspora Africana. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org