Ndaté Yalla Mbodj (Senegal-French, or Ndateh Yalla Mbooj, Gambia-English, (c. 1810—1860 or 1814—1856) was the last great Lingeer (Queen) of Waalo, a kingdom located in what is now North-West Senegal. During her reign, she fought against French colonization and Moorish invasion of her kingdom. In the 19th century, Ndaté Yalla and her sister Ndjeumbeut Mbodj stood out as two of the most powerful women of 19th century Senegambian dynastic history.
|Died||1860 in Dagana, Waalo|
|Spouse(s)||Marosso Tassé Diop (Prince of Cayor and Lord of Koki)|
|Children||Sidia Diop (Prince of Cayor and Waalo)|
|Parent(s)||Brak Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and Lingeer—Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj|
|Relatives||Ndjeumbeut Mbodj (sister)|
Joos Maternal Dynasty (father’s maternal relatives)
Early life and family
Ndaté Yalla, usually cited by most historians as being born in c. 1810 (or 1814 according to François-Xavier) to the powerful and controversial King of Waalo Brak Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and the Lingeer-Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj. In Waalo, the kings were titled Brak. The queens and royal princesses in most parts of Senegambian dynastic/precolonial history were titled Lingeer. The Lingeer—Awo was the first wife of the king, and therefore, one of the most powerful women along with the king’s mother and/or sister (if the queen mother is not alive). Awo means the first wife, and therefore, the first wife was the senior wife and the most powerful of all the king’s wives. In the Serer Kingdoms, and some of the Wolof kingdoms prior to their Islamization, the lingeer, whether ruling in her own right as queen regnant or as the wife of a king (queen consort) had to be crowned lingeer just as the king was crowned brak (or Maad a Sinig and Maad Saloum – in Sine and Saloum respectively).
Ndaté Yalla was the youngest daughter of King Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj to his first wife Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye. Her elder sister was Ndjeumbeut Mbodj who was later married off to the Emir of Trarza. The Brak, Amar Fatim Borso belonged to the powerful, yet controversial Joos Maternal Dynasty of Waalo, which was one of the reigning Houses of Waalo at the time. The Wolof Kingdom of Waalo was ruled by the Mbodj (or Mbooj) paternal dynasty — direct paternal descendants of Barka Bo, the first Brak of Waalo and maternal half-brother of Ndiadiane Ndiaye – founder of the Jolof Empire. Barka Bo and Ndiadiane’s mother was Lingeer Fatoumata Sall, daughter of the Lamtoro of Futa Abraham Sall – who was a Toucolueur. Barka Bo, sometimes referred to as Barka Mbodj was the son of Mbarick Bo. Mbarick Bo was a Bamana of what would become known as Kaarta, and an ancestor of Ndaté Yalla Mbodj. The Bamana surname Bo was Wolofized to Mbodj or Mbooj just as the Haalpulaar surname Bâ was Wolofized to Mbacke (as in Maba Diakhou Bâ and Amadou Bamba Mbacke). On the maternal side, all the kings or queens of Waalo had to belong to one of the three maternal dynasties or royal houses that had ruled over Waalo for nearly 600 – namely: Tedyek (of Fula or Mende origin), Loggar (of Moorish origin) and Joos (of Serer origin). Ndaté Yalla’s father belonged to the Joos Maternal Dynasty, and a direct maternal descendant of Lingeer Ndoye Demba – a Serer Princess of Sine, matriarch and founder of the Joos Dynasty of Waalo and Queen of that kingdom, herself the maternal grand daughter of Lingeer Fatim Beye – a Serer Queen of Sine. Thus, Ndaté Yalla is related to the Joof and Faye royal families that had ruled Sine and Saloum, just as she is related to almost all the Senegambian royal families, as these families used to give their sons and daughters in marriage to each other. For more on this, see those articles.
On Ndaté Yalla’s maternal side, she belonged to the Tedyek (or Teejeg) matriclan through her mother Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye (or Faatim Yamar Xuuri Yaay). Lingeer Guet May Beut is their ancestor and matriarch of that House. Dégèune Mbodj is the ancestor and matriarch of the Loggars.
Ndaté Yalla’s father – Amar Fatim Borso died in January 1926 when Ndaté Yalla and her sister Ndjeumbeut were youths. He was especially known for his anti-Islamic stance against the Senegambian Muslim jihadist at the time — especially the Almamy of Futa (Almamy Biran), and for his famous line “A Brak should never convert to Islam”.
When Ndaté Yalla was just over 16 years of age, she married her cousin and King of Waalo – Brak Yerim Mbanyik Tigereleh Mbodj (or Yerim Mbagnik Tegg Rell). That marriage was however a political marriage in order to advance Tedyek power.
Ndaté Yalla would go on to remarry to Sakoura Barka Diop better known as Marosso Tassé Diop, the Prince of Cayor and Lord of Koki, who was a relative of Lat Dior Diop (future King of Cayor and Baol) and Sayerr Jobe – founder of Sere Kunda in the Gambia. Marosso Tassé, a warrior noble of Cayor would go on to command his wife’s army against Moorish and eminent French threat in years to come. From that marriage, they had Sidia Diop. Marosso Tassé was also a rather powerful and influential figure in Waalo, also known for being a valiant warrior.
Queen Ndate was crowned Lingeer of Waalo on 1 October 1846 in Ndar (also known as Saint-Louis) the capital of Waalo. She succeeded her elder sister Ndjeumbeut Mbodj as Lingeer, reigning as Lingeer from 1846 to 1855 (the year Waalo fell to the French).
In early 1847, she opposed the French authorities over free passage for the Sarakoles (Soninkes) who supplied the Island of Saint-Louis (a French colony) with cattle. In a letter deposited at the Senegalese National Archives (Archives nationales du Sénégal – 13 G 91, Lettre N°. 61), the French claim that, the Queen and/or her people, going in contravention of the treaty that had existed between Waalo and Saint-Louis (Senegal), stopped a herd of 160 oxen that a resident of Saint-Louise (a French man) had bought from some Sarakole merchants and kept 16 of the best livestock for themselves, allowing only 100 to pass. The French went on to state that, the Queen can only be paid for passage after the goods have arrived in Saint-Louis. They then went on to threaten the Queen and asked that she return the 16 oxen which they say were in her possession, and if she refuses to do so she will be deemed an enemy. The Queen viewed the threat as an affront to her sovereignty and the sovereignty of Waalo. On 18 June 1847, she wrote a letter to the French governor in the following terms:
We have wronged no one. Walo belongs to us, that is why we guarantee the passage of livestock in our country. For this reason, we charge one-tenth and we shall never accept any other thing. Saint-Louis belongs to the Governor, Cayor to the Damel, Djollof to the Bourba, Fouta to the Almamy and Walo to the Brak. Each of these chiefs governs his country the way he deems fit.— Ndaté Yalla Mbodj (18 June 1847)
During her reign as Lingeer, she and her husband Maaroso Tassé (commander of her army) fought against the Moors of Trazar who were encroaching on her territory and against the French colonialist army led by General Louis Faidherbe – who has just been brought in (1854) to replace his predecessor Governor Protet. Their years of resistance against colonization resulted in attacks from 1854 and finally the Battle of Dioubouldy (or Diouboulou or Dyubuldu) in 1855. Maaroso Tassé, the Prince of Cayor and Lord of Koki, and commander of the Waalo army, put up a strong resistance against the French. The battle went on for several months. This battle was the first real attempt by France to conquer the Senegambia and bring to an end the six main Senegambian Kingdoms (Waalo, Sine, Saloum, Baol, Cayor and Jolof) and their respective royal dynasties that have reigned for centuries. At the time, Waalo was the only kingdom truly led by a woman (a Queen). The others were led by Kings. Waalo was also close to Saint Louis (a French stronghold). Therefore, Faidherbe decided to exercise his authority first with Waalo. if Waalo fell, it would have been the first of the Senegambian kingdoms to fall, and although it did, it was not as easy as the French thought it was going to be. Waalo was one of two Senegambian kingdoms that gave birth to the Jolof Empire, the other being the Serer Kingdom of Sine. Ndiadiane Ndiaye, the founder of the Empire originated from Waalo. Howsoever, he got his name from the Sere King of Sine Maysa Wali Manneh, and Sine was the first to pledge allegiance to Ndiadiane and asked him to lead the confederacy and asked other kingdoms to allow Ndiadiane to lead the confederacy. Waalo, therefore, had a very ancient past, and it was one of the few (if not the only) Wolof kingdom that was truly democratic, where those from the bottom of the social strata can rise to the top – unlike the other three Wolof kingdoms (Cayor, Jolof, and Baol (previously a Serer kingdom ruled by the Joof family)). The country was also rich in other natural resources which made up its economic base i.e. indigo, millet, cotton, melon, sugar cane, gum arabic, and fish. Fishing was very profitable as Waalo has a coastline that touches the Atlantic Ocean. For the royal family of Waalo, there was a lot at stake.
After months of battle, Maroso Tassé and his wife refused to submit to French invasion and mobilized more forces in order to repulse the French coalition army. Faidherbe responded by bringing new weaponry and a 15000 army personnel, some of whom he brought in from Algeria to supplement his forces. In addition to that, the French brought in 400 horsemen under the command of Filze, the then director of internal affairs. Maaroso Tassé, a valiant warrior as he was, was unable to defeat the French with the army under his command. On 25 January 1855 at Battle of Dioubouldy, the French ravaged and destroyed Waalo. Maroso Tassé and his warriors still held firm and refused to submit. The Queen who was receiving updates still remained defiant. On 31 January 1855, Faidherbe finally defeated the Queen and gained control of Waalo. Having been defeated, the Queen gave the following speech in front of her dignitaries:
Today we are invaded by the conquerors. Our army is completely routed. The Tiedo [animist army] of Walo, valiant warriors though they are, have almost all fallen to the bullet of the enemy. The invader is stronger than we are, I know, but should we abandon Walo to the hands of foreigners?— Ndaté Yalla Mbodj (31 January 1855)
The Prince of Cayor – Maaroso Tassé Diop lost many of his men in battle. For him and his wife, their defeat was the ultimate “defeat” and “humiliation in a country which had known only glory and honour.” In addition to that, their young son was held hostage by the French, baptized a Christian and adding the name Lêon to his name to give Sidia Léeon Diop, and then sent to a French school abroad. He would later request a return to his country and later launched a campaign of attacks against the French. In light of their defeat and the total humiliation of Waalo, under the advice of the Jogomay, Jawdin and Maalo (the three powerful noble council of electors responsible for electing the kings and queens of Waalo from the ruling family) and Maaroso Tassé’s own relatives – the royal family of Cayor, requested that the royal couple moves to Cayor for refuge and protection. They left for Cayor, and received protection from their relatives. The French demanded that the royal family of Cayor hand them over as their prisoners, and if they refuse to do so Cayor would be deemed an enemy. The royal family of Cayor refused to do so and offered them protection. The Queen remained in Cayor for several years until her death in 1860.
Despite their defeat and the total humiliation of their monarch, the Cheddos (or Tiedos) of Waalo, devout followers of Traditional African religion were determined not to relinquish their country to the French so easily. Knowing that their national army and commander had been completely routed, the Tiedos (animists) decided to destroy the infrastructure and the economic base that the French as well as the locals depended on – similar to what the Serers of Sine would do four years later following the Battle of Logandème,
Lingeer Ndaté Yalla Mbodj is one of the most famous lingeers of Senegambian dynastic history. She was not a poppet or feeble queen, but a true queen with all the powers of a Brak. In fact, she was the signatory or co-signatory of many official documents between Waalo and France – 1946 all the way to the final days of Waalo. Immortalized in a sketch by David Boilat, she is one of the very few Senegambian precolonial nobles depicted visually. Like her sister Ndjeumbeut, whom she succeeded in 1846, Ndaté Yalla was famous for three things: her political strength; her marriages and her son Sidia Diop. The French first took notice of her in 1841 when she was the widow of the King – Brak Yerim Mbanick. From the date of her reign, she made it a mission to veto everything the French wanted to implement in her kingdom that she believed was not in her interest. Ndaté Yalla’s son Sidia, continued his parents’ anti-colonialist work until he was captured and exiled to Gabon in 1878.
Ndaté Yalla Mbodj, is regarded as a heroine in Senegambian history, and one of the most famous women of 19th century Senegambia. Along with several other African heroines, She played a crucial role in the struggle for African liberation. Oral historians (also known as griots) have recorded her bravery, and she remains a symbol of female empowerment. During her life and afterwards, Ndaté Yalla was a symbol of resistance against French colonialism. Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj died in Dagana, where a statue erected in her honour still stands.
Her mother was one of those women who committed martyrdom at Talaata-i-Ndeer in the name of honour by burning themselves alive.
A primary school in Saint-Louis bears her name, as well as one of the taxi-boats that runs from Dakar to Rufisque.