Madam Yoko

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Madam Yoko or Mammy Yoko (ca. 1849–1906[1]) was a leader of the Mende people in Sierra Leone. Combining advantageous lineage, shrewd marriage choices and the power afforded her from the secret Sande society, Yoko became a leader of considerable influence.[1][2] She expanded the Mende Kingdom and at the time of her death, she was the ruler of the vast Kpa Mende Confederacy.[3][4]


Madam Yoko, originally called Soma, was born around 1849 in the Gbo Chiefdom.[2][5] She changed her name to Yoko at her Sande initiation ceremony, during which time she became known for her graceful dancing.[2] Yoko's first marriage, which was unsuccessful, was to a man named Gongoima.[5][6] After leaving Gongoima, Yoko's second husband was Gbenjei, Chief of Taiama. Although Yoko remained childless, Gbenjei made her his great wife, giving her economic power within her household.[6][7]

Following Gbenjei's death, Yoko married Gbanya Lango. In 1875, Gbanya was detained by British colonial officials in Taiamawaro.[2] Yoko went directly to Governor Rowe to appeal for her husband's release.[2] Rowe was impressed with Yoko's appeal and Gbanya was flogged, and then released.[2] Following this incident, Gbanya made Yoko his great wife and began sending her on diplomatic missions.[6] With the Sande, Yoko was able to wield significant power, not only amongst women, but Mende society as a whole.[8] As a leader in this women's secret society, she made political alliances and took younger initiates as "wards" — later marrying them into other aristocratic lineages in an imitation of the trajectory of her own rise to power.[2] In 1878, following her third husband's death, Yoko became the chief of Senehun.[9] By 1884 she was officially recognised as "Queen of Senehun".[7] This recognition came not only from her own people, but also from the British.[1] She died in 1906, rumoured to have committed suicide.[7] Having no descendants of her own, she was succeeded by her brother Lamboi.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Sheldon, Kathleen E. (2005). Historical dictionary of women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Scarecrow Press. p. 272. ISBN 0-8108-5331-0. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Rosal, Michelle Zimbalist; Louise Lamphere; Joan Bamberger (1974). Woman, culture, and society. Stanford University Press. p. 177. ISBN 0-8047-0851-7. 
  3. ^ Callow, Mary Ebun Modupe (1997). Womanism and African consciousness. Africa World Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-86543-541-3. 
  4. ^ Olmstead, Judith V. (1997). Woman between two worlds. University of Illinois Press. p. 228. ISBN 0-252-06587-5. 
  5. ^ a b "Sierra Leonean Heroes". Sierra Leone Web. Archived from the original on May 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  6. ^ a b c Skard, Torild (2003). Continent of mothers, continent of hope. Zed Books. p. 168. ISBN 1-84277-107-8. 
  7. ^ a b c Uglow, Jennifer S. (1999). The Northeastern dictionary of women's biography. UPNE. p. 592. ISBN 1-55553-421-X. 
  8. ^ Cornwall, Andrea (2005). Readings in gender in Africa. James Currey Publishers. p. 23. ISBN 0-85255-871-6. 
  9. ^ Olsen, Kirstin (1994). Chronology of women's history. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 145. ISBN 0-313-28803-8.