“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” ― Chinua Achebe
History is, arguably, the most vital subject to learn in educational institutions — and outside of these institutions, as well. But, history is messy; it cannot be neatly fused into a singular storyline. Attempts to do so have left out countless existences and experiences, both deliberately and inadvertently.
“Currently, most students learn history as a set narrative — a process that reinforces the mistaken idea that the past can be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages. This teaching pretends that there is a uniform collective story, which is akin to saying everyone remembers events the same. Yet, history is anything but agreeable. It is not a collection of facts deemed to be “official” by scholars on high. It is a collection of historians exchanging different, often conflicting analyses. And rather than vainly seeking to transcend the inevitable clash of memories, American students would be better served by descending into the bog of conflict and learning the many "histories" that compose the American national story.” — Michael Conway
When individuals see no representations of themselves in a discipline as significant as history, which aggregates all past events and the lives of all peoples, what message does that convey? It allows for deprecating thoughts to fester — I can’t change my life, I can’t change the world, I don’t matter.
Too many great women — especially those of color, queer, and/or gender non-conforming — have been intentionally censored from countries’ history lessons, watered down, distorted, and subsumed by the works of revered historians, or, unfortunately, forgotten altogether as orally transmitted history has faded away.
The greatest pharaoh of ancient Egyptian times was not Narmer, Hor-Aha, Ahmose I, Amenhotep IV, or Seti I. It was Hatshepsut. Her legacy was purposely erased from history, in an effort to minimize her achievements. She reigned 22 years. Her successor, Thutmose III, did all he could to scrub her from history and to take credit for her triumphs.
Queen Nzinga Mbande reigned over Ndongo, fiercely fighting Portuguese colonization. When her brother ascended to the throne, having already bowed down to the Portuguese, he was jailed and his throne taken. Queen Nzinga demanded the release of her brother and that invaders leave Ndongo. At their meeting, to belittle her status, the Portuguese did not offer the Queen a seat to sit in. In response, she bade a servant get on their hands and knees, to be her chair. Her brother was released. For 35 years, she waged war against the colonization of her land: with a strong military presence, undermining their economic hold on the country, and cutting off trade routes.
Janequeo of the Mapuche, an indigenous woman in colonized Chile, led forces to chase out Spanish conquistadores. The Mapuche fought relentlessly for decades. Janequeo’s husband led the efforts, and when he was captured, tortured, and murdered by the Spanish, Janequeo took command. She forged an army that numbered in the thousands. Her army caught the Spanish off guard at the fortress of Puchanqui. The attack culminated with a one-on-one battle with the commander — Janequeo returned with his head on a spear. Though her later life is unknown, the Mapuche continued to fight colonization and they retained their independence until the 1880s.
Mai Bhago led her fellow Sikhs against the Mughals during the 18th century. Masako Hojo created a small army to take revenge on the woman with which her shogun husband was cheating; she became a particularly influential political leader. Mariya Oktyabrskaya, after the death of her soldier husband in WWII, sold all her belongings and used the funds to purchase a tank. Mariya named it Fighting Girlfriend and began her quest to kill Nazis.
Remedios Gomez-Paraiso, also known as Kumander Liwayway, was an esteemed military commander. Before battles, she would don her lipstick, do her hair, and receive a manicure.
When history is not made to include women like Mai, Nzinga, or Janequeo, it becomes stale and oppressive. We must do everything we can to fight for the inclusion of the lives of women like these, to accurately tell their stories, and try to remember them.
However, we cannot rely on institutions to educate us; we must always aim to educate ourselves.