Fugitive Queens: Amakhosikazi and the Evolution of Gender and Power in KwaZulu-Natal (1816-1889)
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Amakhosikazi (elite women) played a vital role within the social, economic, and political reality of the Zulu pre-colonial state. However, histories have largely categorized them as accessory to the lives of powerful men. Through close readings of oral traditions, travelogues, and government documentation, this paper discusses the spaces in which the amakhosikazi exhibited power, and tracks changes in the social position of queen mothers, as well as some members of related groups of elite women, from the early years of the Zulu chiefdom in the 1750s up until the 1887 annexation by Britain and their crucial intervention in royal matters in 1889. The amakhosikazi can be seen operating in a complex social space wherein individual women accessed power through association to political clans, biological and economic reproduction, manipulation, and spiritual influence. Women’s access to male power sources changed through both internal political shifts and external pressures, but generally increased in the first half of the 1800s, and the declined over time and with the fracturing of Zulu hegemony. As a result, elite women became marginalized in both Zulu and colonial political structures. This study raises questions about the character of women’s shared experiences, and those of other categories of women within the Zulu polity.