Brief stories of historical baddies

Remembering: Khutulun, Yennenga, the Trung sisters, Trieu Thi Trinh, Malahayati, Srikandi Tun Fatimah, Ching Shih, Sayyida al-Hurra, Chandramalar, Wong So Ying, Shamsiah Fakeh, Khatijah Sidek, Silvia Morello.

Brief stories of historical baddies
Mugshot of Khatijah Sidek, 1948

Context (2017-2018)

On 19 December 2017, I headlined an event at Minut Init (from the Jack-It series) and used my time onstage to infodump about women in time whose stories I wanted to remember. People asked me to share the women I listed that night, so I wrote a tweet thread in January 2018, which still makes the rounds on IWD. Since then, I made and prefer this permalink.

Khutulun, Mongolian warrior princess

Khutulun, a Mongolian warrior princess in the 1200s, insisted that any man who wanted her hand in marriage had to defeat her in a wrestling match. From the horses of those she defeated, it is said she gathered a herd ten thousand strong.

Yennenga, Dagombi warrior princess

Yennenga, a skilled 12-century West African warrior princess with her own battalion, defied her father who imprisoned her for wanting to marry. She ran to the forest, fell in love with a solitary hunter. Their son started a kingdom. She's 'mother of the Mossi' in Burkina Faso.

The Trung sisters, resistance leaders

Two sisters in Vietnam raised an army of 80,000 people to resist China's conqueror rule and fight for independence. The Trung sisters crowned themselves as kings. After they were killed, China went on to colonise Vietnam for 900 years.

Trieu Thi Trinh

At 20, Trieu Thi Trinh, enslaved by her brother, escaped to the jungle. There she built an army of about 1000, liberating an area of Vietnam from the Chinese as her own. By 23, she defeated about 30 Chinese attempts to reclaim her land. She rode an elephant & fought using 2 swords.


Keumalahayati is the first female commander of the modern world, guardian of the Aceh Kingdom. In the 1500s, she and her ARMY OF WIDOWS struck such fear into the hearts of Dutch and Portuguese at sea, and is very possibly why the British opted for a diplomatic strategy to enter the Selat Melaka.

Portrayal of Admiral Malahayati's victory over colonialist Cornelis de Houtman in a one-on-one battle aboard a Dutch vessel, 11 September 1599
The First Female Commander in the Modern World Was Muslim – Meet Aceh Malahayati - MVSLIM
The history is full of women who have been doing great work the past decades. From science to fine art to extreme sport, nowadays every discipline has its female heroes. As a matter of fact there has always been ‘the first female’ in everything. Aceh was one of them. Keumalahayati, also known as Malahayati, was the first

Tun Fatimah, royalty

When Tun Fatimah declined the Melaka Sultan's proposal (she was married!), he executed her man and all her male relatives. They wed. Word was she never smiled, and she executed all who slandered her dead family. The Portuguese feared her. She expanded the kingdom all the way to Sumatra and Borneo.

Ching Shih, sex worker and pirate queen

Ching Shih, a sex worker in the 1800s, was captured by pirates. Then she became one of history’s most powerful pirates herself, with over 300 junk ships and up to 40,000 pirates in her command. The British, Portuguese, and the Qing dynasty were shook. They begged her to retire in 1810, so she did.

Sayyida al-Hurra, noblewoman turned Mediterranean pirate

Sayyida al-Hurra was 7 when Catholic Spanish monarchs murdered / enslaved 100,000 Muslims of her home. Now a refugee, her city in flames, she vowed revenge. In her 30s, she was a 16th century pirate queen, rebuilding Tetouan with money stolen from those who destroyed her childhood.

Painting depicting Sayyida al-Hurra’s family moments after the fall of Granada
The Pirate Queen of the Mediterranean: The Story of Al-Sayyida al-Hurra -
When it came to piracy on the Mediterrean Sea, one of the most feared and formidable leaders was a woman by the name of Al-Sayyida al-Hurra. Here is her story.

Wong So Ying, 1920s anarchist

In the glitz of 1920s Kuala Lumpur, a woman anarchist with a bob haircut exploded a bomb in a briefcase. She had been shadowing the governor for days. The bomb was revenge for those who banished her lover to China, causing his early death. In Forgotten Armies: The Fall Of British Asia, Bayly and Harper note it as "Malaya’s first act of political terrorism."

One of the memories we must unearth
On 23 Jan 1925, Wong So Ying, a young Chinese woman anarchist, bombed the Office of the Protector of Chinese in Kuala Lumpur (in Malaya, then under British rule). Newspapers at the time noted that she was dressed in a modern style, had a bob haircut, and spoke fluent English and Malay. The Straits Times reported that she was “self-educated against the will of her parents.” She was found to be acquainted with the names of anarchists in China and Chinese anarchist publications.

Shamsiah Fakeh and friends, 1946 Malaya

A group of women with a placard at a rally, 1946 in sunglasses, kebaya, and baju kurung. The acronyms on their sign were also the words for Fire, Beware, Anger/Resent. One of them was only 22. Shamsiah Fakeh eventually became the anti-colonialist leader of Angkatan Wanita Sedar.

The acronyms stand for: Angkatan Pemuda Insaf (API), Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS), Gerakan Angkatan Muda (GERAM).

Chandramalar, school teacher turned assistant commissioner

Chandramalar was a school teacher who became the first woman cop to head the Anti-Vice Branch in 1940s Penang, Malaya. She saved underaged girls in thousands of raids for 5 years. Trafficking women was endemic to the British Empire in Asia; impoverished kids were 'imported' from China as concubines.

Khatijah Sidek

Khatijah Sidek was jailed at 30 for educating women in housekeeping while raising their political awareness, gave birth in prison. When invited to join UMNO, men weren't happy. 10,000 women joined her. She was booted for demanding equal gender representation.

Mugshot of a baddie, 1948

Silvia Morello de Palma

In 1977, Silvia, pregnant and isolated, was the first woman in recorded history to give birth on the unpopulated Antarctica continent. She was sent there by Argentina to give birth to settle turf wars between them and Chile. A woman, used by political men to create history.

How a Baby Staked Argentina’s Claim on Antarctica
What do you do with an entire continent whose sovereignty is unresolved and whose territories are in dispute? Simple: dispatch a pregnant lady, have her give…

Liy presents a 19min tour of real women from history at Minut Init, 19 December 2017.

Liy is a Southeast Asian Muslim knowledge worker and poet sharing their lifelong learning from the imperial periphery. If you're new here (hello!) or need a refresher, start here for house rules. Here I maintain curated lists as a love language for others. Now is my present-day context including from my 5-year old note system. Consider subscribing for free to login and leave comments— I write slowly and send out emails rarely. If you valued what I made, tell me over DM (if we know each other) or tip me with a message— that sends a clear signal of appreciation ✨