Politics Briana Bierschbach · Apr 18, 2019
Growing up in Somalia, Ilhan Omar’s bedtime stories were about Araweelo, a tiny queen who ruled over a kingdom where all women were leaders and all men were peasants. Araweelo’s folklore spread throughout Africa, and even long after she died, women left flowers at her grave while men threw stones.
“My grandfather would tell me this story every single day,” Omar said to a crowd gathered at St. Joan of Arc, a progressive Catholic church in Minneapolis, her small frame pacing across the stage.
“Araweelo was also a very small, tiny person,” Omar said. “She wasn’t feared because she was a big person. She wasn’t feared because she was a tyrant. She was feared because she was wise and she was just.”
The story about a woman who was both revered and despised seems prescient now, given Omar’s political future.
… Omar doesn’t expect the people who dislike her to stop trolling her on Twitter or stop leaving comments about her on news articles, and she chuckles now about her grandfather telling her the story of the controversial Araweelo, the powerful ancient queen.
In Somalia, there are two diverging versions of Araweelo’s myth: Some men say she was a ruthless ruler, while many women idolize her. Omar said the message he was trying to convey holds a lot of currency with her today.
“No matter what you do, your story will be written,” she said. “The best that you can do for yourself and those around you is make sure that you are living the story that you want to be written about you.”
Arawelo or Arraweelo (Somali: Caraweelo) was an ancient Queen in the Somali tradition.
… Like many female rulers, Arawelo fought for female empowerment; she believed society should be based on a matriarchy. She is one of the earliest female rulers in the world who was also a figure of female empowerment, and was known to castrate male prisoners. …
The exact location of her Kingdom is uncertain because any architecture left behind by her kingdom would have almost disappeared considering the great timescale but she was most likely buried somewhere in Northern Somalia, specifically in the Sanaag region of Somalia, since there are many stories of men from that region throwing rocks at her supposed grave and women laying flowers on her grave.
The queen was well known for defying gender roles. … During her reign, Arawelo’s husband objected to her self-ascribed role as the breadwinner to all of society, as he thought women should be restrict themselves to merely domestic duties about the house and leave everything else to men. In response, Arawelo demanded that all women across the land abandon their womanly role in society, and started hanging men by their testicles. The strike was successful, forcing men to assume more child-rearing and creating a role reversal in society.
Arawelo thought this role reversal was necessary since she saw women as natural peacekeepers. Growing up she noticed that women were not treated well and the men were more often instigators, participants and conductors of war and politics. She not only fought for the liberation of women in feudal society but for the dominance of women as she saw them as better, more efficient leaders.
In Popular Culture
References to Arawelo in Somali culture today include nicknaming a girl/woman who is very assertive and dominant “Caraweelo”. She is also, by one source, claimed to have been the Harla queen of the ancient Somali people but this does not conform with the fact that she is just commonly interpreted as a folkloric figure, with there being no evidence that she existed. Opinions on her legacy vary widely, with critics denouncing her for her androcidal nature and introducing the practise of infibulation, a type of FGM, while supporters eulogize her gynocentric attempts at female empowerment.
I’ve been pointing out lately that as America increasingly enjoys the Blessings of Diversity, our progressive elites’ mindsets are regressing toward more old-fashioned notions. For example, belief in individualism is in decline, and boasting “I am descended from mighty kings!” is once again ascendant.
Or in the case of Rep. Omar, she puts a feminist twist on it: “I am descended from mighty queens!”
The thinking of new American elites like this member of the House of Representatives is rather childish by 20th Century standards, but not by 21st Century standards.
Criticizing this trend toward childishness seems bad because, as Mrs. Lovejoy would say, “Think of the children!” Childish fairytales about black queens can’t be criticized because our society’s highest moral value is boosting the self-esteem of black females, like Rep. Omar, even though they tend to have close to the highest self-esteem already.