The Kandakas of Sudan: A Biblical-Islamic Queen Inspires Modern Day Women

Alaa Salah, a modern Sudan Kandaka, speaks to crowd during protest
Sudanese protester Alaa Salah urges on crowd during Sudan uprising
Alaa Salah by Lana H. Haroun (@lana_hago)

You may not have ever heard the word “Kandaka” before until this past year of protests and government overthrow in Sudan. Even now, this name for Nubian Queens, or “strong women” may not be familiar to you, unless you are a reader of Bible, Quran, or the archaeology of the kingdom of Meroe!

Gold Bracelet of Queen Amanishakheto at Meroe
Flickr Images

In modern use, Kandaka is a word given to a woman who has risen up against oppression to fight for her own well-being and that of her children. Long used as a laudatory term for powerful women, a Kandaka totally belies the image of a meek, self-effacing, hijab-wearing shadow with no thoughts or actions of her own. Indeed, life is rough for women in Sudan,and many parts of the world, but there is no “uprising” from a slumbering acceptance of violence against the people. NO: the Kandaka has been with us all along, fighting her fights, occasionally bursting onto the world scene like Alaa Salah’s viral image, addressing a crowd of protesters in 2019. See her defiant leadership here:

The Kandakas of Sudan

Interestingly, although Kandakas themselves identify the word with Nubian Queens from the Kingdom of Meroe, there is a more ancient connection to the one Scriptural Queen, the Queen of Sheba, who appears in the Old Testament, the New Testament (“the Queen of the South who came to see Solomon”), and the Quran, Sura “The Ant”.

Sheba’s story goes like this:

A fabulously wealthy Queen, from either Arabia or the Horn of Africa, hears about (Bible, NT) or is summoned (Quran) to see Solomon, the great King of Israel/Judah in the 10th century BCE (more or less). She tests his wisdom (Bible, NT), or he tests hers with the help of djinn (Quran, folklore), and both pass the test in their stories. A scandalous seduction by Solomon ensues (folklore), Sheba returns to her country, and a child is born, Menelik, who becomes the ruler of Ethiopia. In addition, the Jewish folklore that arises from Solomon’s brutish actions in tricking Sheba into his arms is said to have been so unacceptable to the biblical god, that Solomon dreamed that night that he saw the Glory of the Shekinah (the female Presence of God that dwelt in the Jerusalem Temple) depart from Israel to Africa, a sign of displeasure of the highest order!

Sheba is apparently the name of the REGION from which she comes, but folklore connections to the stories give her a personal name: Candace (NT, Greek Traditions), Makeda (African traditions; notice the root letters K-D!) or Balqis/Bilqis (Islamic traditions). CaNDaCe\MaKeDa, when rendered in Greek alphabet takes the letters K-N-D-K–or KANDAKA!

WHAT makes the Sheba KANDAKA such a worthy inspirational figure, long before Meroe had queens that we knew about? Well, we can see the following motifs:

  • She is a public figure
  • She rules ALONE!
  • She is wise
  • She is adventuresome
  • She becomes a mother
  • She takes care of her people (Quran!)
  • She makes decisions for herself
  • She takes counsel from others in serious situations
  • She travels
  • She returns to her own land, unconquered

With all these amazing qualities, it is just a bit shocking that the Queen of Sheba gets so little press from the male traditions that shaped Scripture and folklore–or is it? WHAT could be more threatening than a woman alone, with power and wit, taking charge of her life, her people and her kingdom? There are very few stereotypes that this first Kandaka did not trample into the dust!!

a Kandaka paints a poster of a woman warrior during the Sudan uprisings

So, back to Sudan and its modern Kandakas who, despite orders by the government aimed at “breaking women”, remain strong in their struggle, often more women in the streets protesting than men! It’s true that, thanks to their fearlessness, their particularly oppressive government was overthrown this year, but the struggle still goes on: new power sharing arrangements have made a good attempt at denying women participation in public life, but the Kandakas, as we have seen, do not take “NO” for an answer.

After all, the Queen of Sheba, and her sisters in Meroe never did! Remember the folk saying from the American South, filled with strong women of African descent:

“Who does she think she is,

the Queen of Sheba?”

Read more about the ongoing situation:

Rapes continue to be used as a method to suppress women’s participation in public life:

A Statement from Mansam (a group for female participation across the spectrum of public activities):

A wonderful Instagram account,

and a Sudanese woman blogger’s account, Amuna Wagner, and her team deserve a BIG round of applause for there intersectional, decolonialist feminist approach to their topics (

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