Accomplished in archery and herbalism, Sarraounia Mangou was a chief/priestess of the animist Azna subgroup of the Hausa, and one of the few African tribal leaders who fought and resisted the advances of French expansionists Paul Voulet and Julien Chanoine at the Battle of Lougou (in present-day Niger) in 1899.
Among the predominantly animist Azna people of Lougou and surrounding Hausa towns and villages, the term Sarraounia refers to a lineage of female rulers who exercised both political and religious power. Sarraounia Mangou was the most famous of the Sarraounias due to her resistance against French colonial troops at the Battle of Lougou in 1899.
The Battle of Lougou
After the Berlin conference, the French Voulet-Chanoine Mission, led by the captains Paul Voulet and Julien Chanoine, were dispatched in 1898 to Africa to conquer the Chad Basin and unify all French territories in West Africa for the French colonial empire.
The expedition of Voulet-Chanoine is remembered for its descent into depravity and extreme violence, actions which today would legally be considered war crimes.
As they advanced across the land, they ruthlessly subjugated the native peoples, meeting little resistance as they continued their mission.
While most chiefs in Niger submitted to French power, Sarraounia Mangou mobilized her people and resources to confront the French forces of the Voulet–Chanoine Mission.
Mangou’s army assembled on the field, while women and children had already retired themselves in a small thick and almost impenetrable bush where the Azna defended themselves when facing a superior enemy. There at Sarraounia Mangou’s fortress capital of Lougou, Voulet & Chanoine encountered their hardest battle yet, with 4 men killed and 6 wounded.
Sarraounia would later retreat into the bush, where the thick foliage partly protected the natives from the gunfire.
Overwhelmed by the superior firepower of the French, she and her fighters retreated from the fortress, and engaged the attackers in a lengthened guerrilla battle which eventually forced the French to abandon their project of trying to subdue her.
In retaliation for the killing and wounding of a couple of their soldiers by Queen mangous army, the french colonial forces took their revenge on 8 May: in one of the worst massacres in French colonial history, they slaughtered all the inhabitants of the town of Birni-N’Konni, killing possibly thousands of people.
A movie was made about the life of Sarraounia Mangou in 1986. The historical drama film was written and directed by Med Hondo and it is based on a novel of the same name by Nigerien author Abdoulaye Mamani, who co-wrote the screenplay.
The novel and film concern the real-life Battle of Lougou between Azna queen Sarraounia Mangou and the advancing French Colonial Forces of the Voulet-Chanoine Mission in 1899.
The French CNC (centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée) refused to support the film, and even attempted to block its funding and distribution but things didn’t go as they planned as the then president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, personally intervened, enabling the funding and production of the film.
The film which was well received, later won the first prize at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in 1987.