Princess Yennenga was a Legendary horse-riding warrior from the kingdom of Dagomba, who lived over 900 years ago. She is considered to be the mother of the Mossi people of Burkina Faso.
Yennenga was born in the 12th century, in what is now known as Burkina Faso. Her father, Nedega, was the the founder of the kingdom of Dagbon, now in present day Ghana. From a young age, Yennenga displayed an extraordinary affinity for horses and a fierce desire for independence. While her royal lineage might have dictated a life of luxury within the palace walls, Yennenga’s heart yearned for something different – the life of a warrior.
As Yennenga grew older, her desire for independence extended beyond horseback riding. She yearned to protect her people and her kingdom. In a time when gender roles were strictly defined, Yennenga shattered these boundaries, donning armor and wielding a spear, she fought in battle alongside her father’s best warriors. Her bravery on the battlefield earned her the nickname “The Horse-Riding Warrior Princess.”
Yennenga was such a skilled fighter that when she reached the ripe age of marriage, her father refused to choose a husband for her or allow her to marry because he wanted her to remain with him.
To express her unhappiness to her father, Yennenga planted a field of wheat. When the crop grew, she let it rot. She explained to her father that was how she felt, being unable to marry. But even that wasn’t enough to make her father change his mind instead he locked her up with the hope that her time in solitary confinement would make her change her mind.
However, Yennenga’s indomitable spirit could not be contained. With the help of one of the king’s horsemen, she escaped in the guise of a man, but their flight took an unfortunate turn when they were ambushed by the Malinkes, leaving her companion dead and Yennenga alone.
On the run with her horse, fate led her to a young elephant hunter named Rialé, with whom she fell in love. Their union gave rise to a child named Ouedraogo, a name that carries deep significance, meaning “male horse” in honor of the horse that brought Princess Yennenga to Rialé.
As the princess’s son, Ouedraogo matured, he embarked on a journey north. This journey reunited him with his grandfather, King Nedega, who had long sought his daughter. Yennenga, along with Riale, was welcomed back with a grand feast.
King Nedega, eager to reconcile with his daughter, pledged to oversee the training of his grandson and bestowed upon him a cavalry, cattle, and other resources, which Ouedraogo used to establish his kingdom Tenkodogo. The resulting intermarriage between his lineage and the local peoples became the Mossi people. It is this legacy that earned Yennenga the title “mother of the Mossi people.”
In her honor, statues abound in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, including the famous golden stallion known as the “Étalon de Yennenga” (Stallion of Yennenga), awarded as the top prize at the biennial Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.
Furthermore, a groundbreaking ecological city near Ouagadougou is underway, set to be named Yennenga City, a testament to her enduring legacy.