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Yennenga: Ancestor of Burkina Faso’s Mossi people

Richard Tiéné
May 12, 2021

Princess Yennenga was not the typical princess, she was a fearless warrior and an experienced horseback rider. She left a lasting legacy in Burkina Faso.

African Roots | Yennenga

Yennenga: Ancestor of Burkina Faso's Mossi people

When was princess Yennenga born?

Historians don't seem to agree about the exact birth date of princess Yennenga. However, many believe she was born sometime between the 11th and the 15th centuries. She was King Naba Nedega's favorite daughter. He reigned over the Dagomba kingdom which was located in modern-day Ghana.

What is so particular about princess Yennenga?

According to oral tradition, the horse had been the princess's favorite animal since her teenage years. After several attempts Yennenga managed to convince her father to let her ride. This was a privilege reserved only for men of the kingdom. The princess then proved she was not only a brilliant horse rider but also a formidable warrior.

Her son was born from a love encounter with a hunter in the bush.
They named him Ouedraogo (stallion) as a tribute to the horse who made their love story possible. The Ouedraogo are the ancestors of the Mossi people, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso.

Yennenga - The princess who followed her heart

Controversy about her story

The moment Yennenga got lost in the bush remains enigmatic — different narratives exist. The most famous one states that the princess ran away — she left her village to escape from her father who declined to give his favorite daughter away in marriage.

Concerning the origin of her lover, some sources identify him as a dozo (hunter) from Mali. This could explain why the Mossi people have Malian origin.

What legacy did she leave?

Among the many Burkinabe artists who have paid tribute to the princess is Yili Nooma. For her, Yennenga was "a bold and fearless woman, an Amazon, a warrior whom we, as women, want to resemble." Choosing the princess's name for her first album was "a way of saying we are today's Yennenga".

Yennenga's legacy is also being kept alive through "the Golden Stallion of Yennenga", the trophy of the biennial of African cinema festival (FESPACO). A brand new city called Yennenga is still under construction and also the ASFA Yennenga, a first division football club, in the national football league. The name of the national football team of Burkina Faso, the Stallions, likewise is a tribute to the princess's favorite animal.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Professor Lily Mafela and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.