The Queen is the Boss! is a research-based online exhibition on the history of women, gender, and power in northern Mozambique.  It focuses on the oral histories of Yaawo queens and female chiefs.

The matrilineal Yaawo have had a tradition of female figures of spiritual and political authority. Yet we know little about their histories and about the power that they once exercised.

One reason for our lack of knowledge is that written sources give us very little information. What we know of early Yaawo history mainly builds on the reports and writings of missionaries and travelers as well as the studies of colonial anthropologists. These Western male writers largely ignore questions of women’s power. Instead, they bring us stories about male rulers and of political and spiritual authority held firmly in male hands.

Contemporary history books—building on these written sources—have further fixed the fame of the Yaawo male leaders. Often, they take male leadership and a masculine shape of power as the unquestionable norm. 

The Queen is the Boss! challenges this understanding. Through the exploration of oral historical narratives passed down from generation to generation, it tells another kind of gendered narrative about this past.

The exhibition tells the story about a deeper past in which male spiritual-political leadership was not the norm and also women spoke and acted with authority.

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The basis of this exhibition is the oral history research conducted by Jonna Katto in collaboration with Helena Baide and Domingos Aly in Niassa between 2014 and 2020.

The exhibit is in English, Portuguese, and Ciyaawo.

Acknowledgement for the translation of the exhibition:

Domingos Aly (Ciyaawo)

João Figueiredo (Portuguese)

Audio recordings of the exhibit—narrated by Emília António—are available in Ciyaawo and Portuguese.

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The exhibit was conceived of as a way to communicate some of the results of the research project “Rethinking African Gender Histories: Time, Change, and the Deeper Past in Northern Mozambique”(GENHIS-AFRICA) to a wider global audience. GENHIS-AFRICA was based at the African Studies Department at Ghent University and funded through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions – Individual Fellowship scheme (2019-2021).

The exhibit also received a grant from the FinCEAL Plus Bridges Partnership Support Grant coordinated by the Finnish University Partnership for International Development (UniPID).