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Sheroes of africa: Queen Abla Pokou

The story of Queen Abla Pokou goes hand in hand with the creation of the Baoulé tribe of Côte d’Ivoire and is a reminder of the importance of the mother figure in this region and the entire Akan culture.

Baule masked dancers of the Goli society, Kondeyaokro village, Côte d’Ivoire. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972

The Queen

Queen Abla Pokou was born a princess in the Ashanti kingdom of Ghana. She was the niece of the great King Osei Tutu, founder of the Ashanti Empire. In the Ashanti culture, succession is matrilineal. So when King Osei Tutu died, it was Dakon, the brother of Queen Abla Pokou who took power.

Unfortunately, disagreements after his nomination led to war and Dakon was killed. The Queen, fearing for her life, decided to flee the kingdom with her court. After walking for days and nights, they arrived on the shore of the Comoé River. River located at the border between Ghana and Côte d’ Ivoire. Knowing that these waters were very dangerous, they were confronted with a dilemma: cross or face death.

Comoé River, located at the border between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire

This is where the legend begins

The Queen looked at her wizard and asked if a sacrifice could be made to the genie of the river to create a crossing. The wizard replied that only an offering of what was most dear to them would convince the genie to create a route.

“Kouakou, my only child, forgive me. But I have understood that I need to offer you to the river for the survival of our people. More than a woman or mother, a Queen is first a Queen!”

The women of the court, including the Queen, took off all their jewelry for offering while the men gave livestock. The wizard stopped them and insisted that what was most dear was their sons.

Illustration of Abla Pokou by Mark Modimola

The Sacrifice

At that moment, the queen untied her son from her back and said; “Kouakou, my only child, forgive me. But I have understood that I need to offer you to the river for the survival of our people. More than a woman or mother, a Queen is first a Queen!”. Then, without shedding a tear, she offered him as a sacrifice to the Comoé River.

Once the offering was made, a path appeared, allowing the queen and her people to cross. Some historians claim that a giant tree bent over to let the Queen and her people cross. While other versions state that a group of hippopotamuses lined up to make a path across the river.

Once they had crossed the river, the queen shouted, “BA OULI!” meaning “the child is dead”. From that point on, “Baoulé”, became the name of the people.

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