By Louise Gay
Born c. 1864 in Ngabé, Ngalifourou was the last Queen of the Teke, or Bateke, people in the Tio kingdom (a region located in Gabon, Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo).
Around 1880 at the age of sixteen, she became the second wife of the Makoko (‘King’) Iloo I (r. 1874-1892). From a simple consort in the shadows, she was enthroned Queen following a successful traditional initiation and abandoned her birth name, Ngassiè, for Ngalifourou.
Assisting the king in his political functions, the Queen also played an important spiritual role by being the guardian of the Nkwembali, the traditional spirits.
While the neighbouring kingdom of Kongo had began its decline in the 19th century, the same was not true for Tio where the flourishing economy was based on textile trade. However, this situation was about to drastically change.
French and Belgian governments were simultaneously competing over colonial control of the Congo Basin through their respective explorers Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza and Henry Morton Stanley.
The same year of her mariage, Ngalifourou witnessed the treaty negotiations between her husband and De Brazza (Aug. – Oct. 1880). Manipulated, the teke ruler kept his title but conceded to the French ‘his hereditary rights of supremacy’.
Remaining a local authority figure as well as an intermediary with the colonial elites, Ngalifourou kept her status as Queen after Iloo I’s death in 1892. From the ‘Queen’s seat’ in Ngabé, she worked closely with his successors and French administrators until her end in 1956.
Eugénie Mouayini Opou, La reine Ngalifourou souveraine des Téké (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006)
Maixent Cyr Itoua Ondet, Genre et Paix ! : les femmes dans la résolution des conflits au Congo-Brazzaville (PhD thesis from Université de Grenoble, 2014)