Yennenga was an African princess,who lived over 900 years ago, the daughter of Nedega, an early 12th-century king of the Dagomba Kingdom in what is now northern Ghana. She was beautiful and became a cultural icon, a woman with a strong character and an independent mind and beloved princess who from the age of 14, fought in battle for her father against the neighboring Malinkés. Skilled with javelins, spears and bows, she was an excellent horsewoman and commanded her own battalion.
Yennenga was such an important fighter that when she reached a marriageable age, her father refused to choose a husband for her or allow her to marry. 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. Nedega failed to be moved by this gesture and locked his daughter up.
One of the king’s horsemen helped Yennenga, dressed as a man, escape on her stallion. Attacked by Malinkés, her companion was killed, and Yennenga was left alone. She continued to ride north. One night, when she was exhausted from crossing a river, Yennenga’s stallion took her into a forest. She met a solitary elephant hunter called Riale. When he saw through Yennenga’s disguise, they fell in love. Yennenga and Riale had a son they named Ouedraogo, which means “stallion” and is now a common name in Burkina Faso. Ouedraogo founded the Mossi Kingdom.
Yennenga is considered by the Mossi to be the mother of their empire and many statues of her can be found in the capital city of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. A statue of a golden stallion, called the Étalon de Yennenga, is awarded as the first prize in the biennial Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO). The national football team is nicknamed “Les Étalons” (“the Stallions”) in reference to Yennenga’s stallion.