Women King as Wild Seed
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
I just watched Woman King directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, I was already in multiple places at once. Including in the theatre watching, but already grabbing for my phone to document the ideas coming to my mind. Themes were pulling me to all sorts of times and places, including the past. As in, the historical context being portrayed in the film.
It features Viola Davis as Nanisca, a female soldier from the Dahomey kingdom who leads her all-female battalion.
I think I’m not wrong in saying that Nanisca, Nawi, Izogie, and the other women soldiers in the all-female battalion could be thought of as Wild Seed. No, they are Wild Seed for sure. Like Octavia Butler’s character Anyawu in her novel Wild Seed. Anyawu is a powerful woman who scares the most powerful man of her kind.
Octavia Butler writes of Anyawu, “She was an oracle. A woman through whom a god spoke. Strangers paid heavily for her services… She had been blamed several times for causing misfortune. Each time she passed the test, her accusers had been ridiculed and fined for their false charges. In each of her lives as she grew older, people ceased to accuse her-though not all ceased to believe she was a witch. Some sought to take matters into their own hands and kill her regardless of the tests.”
She’s the type of woman to talk back to men. She fights them. She’s a shapeshifter, so she changes her form to be a man. She’s not afraid of Doro, the main man in the novel. Even when she’s terrified of him, she too terrifies him. They try to kill each other. They have a volatile and abusive relationship. I use these dynamics, including Kendrick Lamar’s new short film, We Cry Together, I worked with Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44. I think I might sit down and really tease out my argument and just finish the chapter already. But the idea is, these women have very specific traits that are coded as masculine. They are powerful "like men are." Maybe even more powerful than men. Beyonce says in Renaissance, “even though I’m cooler than you.” Or in Lemonade she says, “I might get your song played on the radio station.”
A woman king. You know the type. Men find us threatening. See us as masculine. Treat us like men. Fight us like men. Leave us to fend for ourselves like men. Abandon us to protect ourselves. Because we can "protect ourselves like men." Don’t feel a need to provide for us, because we can provide for ourselves. We want to be like men, right? "So then be a man."
You know the type.
In some Akan traditions and in Twi we call them, oba besia. In some Nigerian communities from what I’ve read, we can say that Wild Seed are male-daughters, which I would consider myself for sure. Or female-husbands (I wish). It’s the idea that women are able to fill the place of a male child or as a husband who is able to take on multiple wives. These women resonate with me.
I see myself as a male daughter. If my parents are honest, they would say that too. Most Ghanaians who know me know I have a lot of fire in that way. Very bold. Sometimes fierce. Intense. Powerful. And yes, in an arrogant kind of way.
I always got fouled out of basketball because I was too aggressive. I couldn’t get the hang of flag football because not tackling people made no sense to me. I very much so have a lot of so-called masculine energy. I don’t know how energy gets codified as gender, but again, I’m working with these frameworks already flawed.
Women King. Female husbands. Male Daughters. Both masculine and feminine in one mind-body. Is this perhaps how Africans and other Indigenous communities have always made sense of non-binary and trans people? But through a different language? Or model, framework, or concepts?
2-Spirit made the most sense to me. But I learned I can’t use the term because it comes out of Turtle Island and is a very specific context to a particular people and or nations. But what resonates both for me is 2, plus more Spirits in me. As in I feel some of my ancestors I’ve never known so strongly. I joke about being the reincarnate of the Woman King in my lineage. That’s how strongly I identify with masculine energy.
But in doing so, both no longer become viable options for containing me. Not female or masculine. I become neither in becoming both, plus more, and none at all. Cause some of these Spirits I do not know their gender. They cease to have gender because the very idea of gender is also flawed and makes no sense to me at all. The binary seems so limiting. Not expansive enough to encapsulate all the energies that surge through me.
So does that make me trans? I think so, based on how I hear others defining transness. But I also can’t all the way claim trans, because I don’t actually want to transition or take on a male form (not to say people have to transition or get surgery to claim a trans identity).
I quite enjoy living in a high femme body. I love femininity and don’t want to ever not also be a woman. I’ve heard people identify as trans, non-binary, and femme at the same time. That makes sense to me. Neither, and also, very much so still a femme. Yes. Okay. But working through all of this has been hard and complicated.
I have gotten a lot wrong and have been transphobic at times, trying to mostly make sense of my own identities, and projecting my confusion and self-hate on others. It’s hard to work through this as a Catholic. I’m sure you understand why. That is mostly where the confusion comes from. What others have gotten wrong. Especially white communities that are very much so rooted in binary, man, woman. They thought our ways were demonic and convinced us we were the evil ones. And so we believe that who we were before contact is a wayward life. Including some of the different ways we understood gender.
You see in the film that patriarchy was already trying to push through. The man slaps Nawi who refuses to take him as her husband. Her father drops her off at the king’s palace because she is a disobedient daughter. There was already a sense of entitlement that men had over women, even back then.
But there was also a level of respect for women in leadership that was very much normalized then.
The king is quite content to let the women lead because he knows they were the best to save the kingdom. No question about it. Now, men would argue that women are not supposed to be that way. That we’ve lost our way and women try to be men. I pity these African men, because many have forgotten they came from cultures that respected women. Where women like Yaa Asantewaa led them in battles. Where women like in my own lineage were some of the most powerful leaders.
Now they say it's western feminism. LOL. K but go watch Woman King and learn a little bit about your own history. Because not all women were submitting to men. In fact, they were protecting the men.
So, who got gender wrong? Us or them. You or me? Is trans a western import if you had women kings and male daughters? Is queerness a western import if you had female husbands? Seems to me our people have always been queer and have bent gender.
I think we all got duped, if I’m honest.
When we think of soldiers at war in the West, we usually think of white men fighting in Europe or Asia, or in America. Holding guns, using canons, fighter jets, etc. When I think of war in a West African context, I think of women soldiers like Yaa Asantewaa, who lead our people in a battle against the Europeans. Women not only fought in these battles but were leaders.
That’s not the "typical" image you have of women. "That’s men's stuff."
But African women like where I come from fought in wars. They were the strongest and fiercest. Wild Seed like that-women but not quite feminine, masculine but not quite a man-they would be understood as both, which had nothing to do with their gender per se. Although here, we see that they tended to give their lives to their line of work. The idea of marriage or having children was out of the question for them. Maybe not for all, but it was clear, as it is with men, that people in those types of roles cannot be at home raising children. They are needed on the battlefield to fight for their people.
Google Yaa Asantewaa. She was Ghanaian. A soldier. Powerful. Well-known. I wonder how many other women soldiers there were that we don’t know their names.
Until next time, in solidarity.