Did this African Queen exist in ancient times or is this a legend?
Once upon a time, in Somalia, there was a kingdom ruled by a strong and beautiful queen. The Queen’s name was Ebla Awad, but everybody knew her as “Queen Arraweelo.” The Queen came to power around AD 15 after a long war between Somali clans.
Arawelo was a Queen who ruled over what is today known as Somalia. She was the first born of three daughters and natural heir to the dynasty. Like many female rulers, Arawelo fought for female empowerment; she believed society should be based on amatriarchy. She is one of the earliest female rulers in the world who was also a figure of female empowerment, and was known to castrate male prisoners. Arawelo was well-known throughout Africa, and the Queen of Sheba was said to send gifts to her in the form of gold coins as a congratulatory gesture (although the Queen of Sheba is usually placed in the 10th century BC).
The queen was well known for defying gender roles. Before she was queen, during the Buraan droughts, she and a team of women fetched water and hunted to prevent her town from migrating and to relieve starvation. During her reign, Arawelo’s husband objected to her self-ascribed role as the breadwinner to all of society, as he thought women should be restrict themselves to merely domestic duties about the house and leave everything else to men. In response, Arawelo demanded that all women across the land abandon their womanly role in society, and started hanging men by their testicles. The strike was successful, forcing men to assume more child-rearing and creating a role reversal in society.
Arawelo thought this role reversal was necessary since she saw women as natural peacekeepers. Growing up she noticed that women weren’t treated well and the men were more often instigators, participators and conductors of war & politics. She did not only fight for the liberation of women in feudal society but for the dominance of women as she saw them as better, more efficient leaders.
The exact location of her Kingdom is uncertain because any architecture let behind by her kingdom would’ve almost disappeared considering the great timescale but she was most likely buried somewhere in Northern Somalia specifically in the Sanaag region of Somalia since there are many stories of men from that region throwing rocks at her supposed grave and women laying flowers on her grave. Her throne was passed down to an unknown next of kin, though many versions suggest it was her niece, Araxsan.
Arawelo was by far the greatest ruler in Somali history. Many versions of her story have been passed down for thousands of years but all of her stories fully acknowledge her existence and the great power she had over all Somalis. She has definitely left a mark on Somali people everywhere. Somali women have since been protected by the Somali Xeer and women still hold a very strong position in politics and the household thousands of years after the death of the Queen though their strong influence has since diminished greatly mainly due to the great many changes in Somali culture over the centuries.
References to Arawelo in Somali culture today include nicknaming a girl/woman who is very assertive and dominant “Caraweelo”. She is also, by one source, claimed to have been the Harla queen of the ancient Somali people but this does not conform with the fact that she is just commonly interpreted as a folkloric figure, with there being no evidence that she existed.
In the past, women around the world have been living in predominantly patriarchal societies, where men hold primary power and authority over women. This type of society was seen as ‘ideal’ and still exists today. It marginalize women and basically treated them as second class citizens.
Many movements have campaigned and fought against this type of society, as well as traditional gender roles. The most radical movement in modern times which revolutionised the whole social structure and gave women equal rights was the feminist movement, popularly known as the women’s liberation movement.
But being a feminist is not a unique product of the 20th and 21st century. Feminists of the past have made their mark in history and I am going to discuss one in particular. Let’s rewind back to 15 AD and look at the life of the strong and diligent queen Arawelo and what she has taught women.
Little is known about Queen Arawelo’s death, but legend narrates that she was eventually assassinated by her grandson, who was against her campaign for female liberation. This marked the end of the legacy of the great Queen Arawelo.
Another version of this story:
There are also many elderly and wise women who dare to tell their versions of what they have heard about Queen Araweelo. These women who feared retribution for years are now coming forward to tell the world what they know about Somali women’s plight and the real story of Queen Araweelo.
According to some of the wise elders that we have interviewed, Queen Araweelo came to power around AD 15 after a long war between Somali clans. These feuds had claimed thousands of lives countless and more had died starvation. Some of the elderly women we have interviewed said that Ebla’s husband was killed few years after the clan warfare started. It was also reported that the only two children she had had died of starvation during the civil war.
During this difficult time, Araweelo showed great bravery and toughness when the women were attacked by Somali bandits; consequently, they chose her to be their leader.
When other women who lived in similar situations had heard about this group of women who banded together to protect themselves, they joined in droves. The number of women in the jungle community grew and became a force to be reckoned with. In later years, many minority groups who needed protection against larger clans also joined. Araweelo was eventually crowned as the Queen of Peace and Prosperity. The word spread to every corner of Somali territory and many women felt liberated.
Another version of her death:
One day, as the Queen was on her way to a funeral of an elderly woman, she was attacked by a warlord named Oday Biiq. Once the death of the Queen was announced the clan leaders went back to fighting each other. Thus ending the reign of Queen Araweelo.
Fortunately, many Somali girls and women have become educated. Today, in Europe, America, Austria and even the Middle East, Somali girls out perform their male counterparts and many more women are in schools than men. These trends favor Somali women in all areas where Somali is spoken.
These educated women are challenging the status quo and questioning the legitimacy of what has been reported about Queen Ebla Awad and other famous Somali women. They are asking themselves who Queen Araweelo was, if she was real, how she came to power, and how she ruled. Many of these women like me are re-examining the unsubstantiated and biased stories that have been told about her.
World Map of Somalia