Many black Muslim women can relate to feeling out of place in most of the spaces they find themselves in. At the intersection of three identities synonymous with repression, one often finds herself asking, “What is the place of the Black Muslim woman in today’s world?” And because history allows us to find answers to questions of the present, we have decided to dedicate Black History Month to celebrating and honouring the lives of Black Muslim women leaders in history, whose stories help to illuminate the paths of the women of this generation. On this journey, we find ourselves in 19th century Mohéli, flipping through the life pages of Djoumbé Fatima Soudi, the Queen of Mohéli.
Born of royal blood in 1837, Djoumbé Fatima Soudi was from the dynasty of Merina in Comoros; an island country in the Indian Ocean, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel off the eastern coast of Africa, which shares maritime borders with Madagascar and Mayotte to the southeast, Tanzania to the northwest, Mozambique to the west, and Seychelles to the northeast. Djoumbé Fatima’s father, General Ramanataka Abderrahmane was a Malagasy prince and the King of Mohéli who was also a brother-in-law to Radama I, the King of Madagascar. Upon the death of King Radama I, Djoumbé’s father fled the city and her mother, Ravao, ruled as Queen regent. After the death of her husband in 1842, Ravao married her husband’s former adviser, Tsivandini, in 1843. Upon her mother’s remarriage, Djoumbé Fatima ascended the throne of Moheli in Comoros at the age of five. However, her step-father, Tsivandini soon became her mentor and started making arrangements for her marriage to the sultan of Zanzibar.
Djoumbé Fatima Soudi lived in the palace, overlooking the sea, next to which was the garrison – a white building of two rooms, which held 28 soldiers. When the Welsh Christian missionary, David Griffiths, returned to Mohéli in 1841, expecting to meet General Ramanataka Abderrahmane as King, he was in fact shocked to find his daughter, Djoumbé Fatima on the throne. Like many other locals at the time, Djoumbé Fatima refused to convert to Christianity, maintaining the cultural and political sovereignty of her people.
In 1846, Djoumbé Fatima’s mother Ravao, divorced Tsivandini. At the time, Mayotte, a major part of Nothern Mozambique had already been ceded to France and the French were very eager to establish their presence in Mohéli, so they arranged for Djoumbé’s official coronation and appointed one Madame Droit to serve as governess for her. Two years later, however, Djoumbé expelled the governess and married Saïd Mohammed Nasser M’Kadar, who was cousin to Zanzibar’s sultan. M’Kadar became prince consort and ruled with Fatima until 1860, when he was ousted by the French. Despite this, Djoumbé Fatima held on to the throne, marrying two sultans and eventually renouncing the throne for her son, Mohamed bin Saidi Hamadi Makadara in 1865.
In 1863, the French government sent a delegation to meet with Queen Djoumbé Fatima and the event was recorded by a visiting photographer Désiré Charnay. According to the photographer, she had a number of attendants and was dressed extremely finely in a “robe of rich Turkish tissue of silk and gold”. Her dress covered most of her face, with only her hand visible. The purpose of the visit had been to impress upon the young queen the advantages of becoming a French colony. But she vehemently resisted.
When the French returned in 1871, she was restored to the throne and ruled until her death in 1878. She was the last leader of Mohéli before French colonization. In her married life, Djoumbé Fatima had five children. With her first husband, Saïd Mohammed Nasser M’Kadar, she had three sons; Mohamed bin Saidi Hamadi Makadara who was the Sultan of Mohéli from 1865-1871; Abderremane bin Saidi Hamadi Makadara who was the sultan of Mohéli from 1878-1885 and Mahmudu bin Mohamed Makadara who was the regent of Mohéli for his half-sister, Sultana Salima Machamba. From Djoumbé Fatima’s marriage to Emile Fleuriot de Langle, she had two children; Bakoko and Salima Machamba.
The story of Djoumbé Fatima Soudi reminds us of the powerful legacy of Black women in Islamic tradition.
- Ibrahime, Mahmoud (2001) “Djoumbé Fatima: Une reine comorienne face aux visées coloniales de la marine française.” Tarehi – Revue d’Histoire et d’Archéologie 2, 10–17.
- Grosdidier, Christophe: Djoumbe Fatima, reine de Mohéli, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2004. ISBN:978-2-7475-6953-8
- Djoumbé Fatima – Wikipedia
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.