Black History Month 2020 - African Heritage: The story of Queen Abla Pokou

We enjoy recounting and sharing the story of the great Queen Abla Pokou from the Ashanti tribe in west Africa; for the occasion of black history month 2020.

We hope that you too enjoy reading about Queen Abla Pokou as we do and get inspired by her courage and determination.

I (Haissata Diallo) was taught the story of Queen Abla Pokou while in primary school in Côte d’Ivoire. Her story is the story of the creation of the Baoule people of Côte d’Ivoire. She was a strong and loving queen who made a profound sacrifice for the well-being of her people, and thus was granted their deep love.

Queen Abla Pokou, the founder of the Baoulé people of Côte d’Ivoire, was a great queen and woman who sacrificed what she held most dear for the well-being of her people. Many African presidents would learn a lot from Queen Abla Pokou’s courage, determination, and love of her people. 

In the 17th century, King Osei Kofi Tutu I founded the Ashanti Empîre of Ghana. Given that in the Ashanti culture the law is matrilineal, when King Oseï Tutu died, his nephew succeeded him. However, when his nephew died shortly after, a war for the throne started in Kumasi, the capital of the kingdom; this war opposed an old uncle of the royal family named Itsa, and Dakon, the second brother of the future queen Abla Pokou (born at the beginning of the 18th century). Dakon would also die in that fratricide war.

Quickly, Abla Pokou, understanding that she and her followers would be next to die, decided to flee. Led by her, they walked for several days and nights, fleeing from those threatening to kill them. They soon arrived on the shores of the Comoé River, located on the frontier between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. But the river is unsurmountable, its waters are dangerous, and their enemies were getting closer. After they had overcome so many obstacles, and walked for days, it was impossible to stop there. 

Queen Pokou looked to her court wizard for advice, saying, “wizard, tell us what the genie of the river wants from us in order to cross its treacherous waters!” The wizard replied, “Queen, the river is quite irritated, and would only stop once an offering of what is most dear to us is made to it.” Thus, the women of the court started taking off their gold and ivory jewelry, and the men brought their cattle for offering. But the wizard, shaking his head sadly, stated “What is most dear to us is our sons!”

Looking upon her people, the queen decided to make the most difficult sacrifice ever: that of her toddler son wrapped on her back. After she untied him, she said to him, “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!” She then stoically, without shedding a tear, offered her son as a sacrifice to the Comoé River.

Once the offering made, a path quickly appeared within the waters of the Comoé river allowing the queen and her people to cross it. Once the river crossed, the queen finally cried, “BA OULI!” meaning “the child is dead.” This would become the name of the people “Baoulé”. Once they arrived in a good place, the tribe holded a funeral for the sacrificed child. In memory of that, the place would be called Sakassou, meaning “place of funerals.”

Queen Abla Pokou ruled over her people for many years, and news of her good reign travelled very far. She died around 1760.

Some historians claim that a big tree bent over to let the Queen and her people cross, while others maintain that a group of hippopotamuses lined up a path across the river for the queen. Either way, the story of the queen’s great courage remains the same.  

Her story was made into a 3D movie: POKOU Princesse Ashanti, in Côte d’Ivoire. The Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo has also published a book Reine Pokou: concerto pour un sacrifice in 2005.