Every day, as we search for hidden knowledge about ourselves as Black people, we stumble upon amazing facts that give us a course to smile and dig more. The story of Queen Califia in its entirety adds to our collection of Black Heroes who have set themselves apart in the sands of time. Her’s is a story worth every attention.
Describing the Island of California, Las Sergas de Esplandián, wrote in a novel titled novella de caballería and published in 1510:
“Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there because they lived in the way of the Amazons.
They had beautiful and robust bodies and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden because there was no other metal in the island than gold”.
This was the description of the Island of California by Spanish writer, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in the well-known novel called Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) around 1500. Las Sergas was plotted on the Island of California, said to be east of the Asian mainland.
It is true that some historical documents insinuate that California was named after “calida fornax” (hot furnace) and “cal y fornos ” meaning “lime and furnace”, however, there is perhaps, a true account about the name’s origin: it states that California was named after a black queen; Queen Califia.
Following Montalvo’s account, Queen Califia reigned over the island which would later be named after her. She was a beautiful black Moor and pagan and was on a mission to raise an army of women warriors who would together with her sail away from California to join forces with a Muslim army in order to fight against Christians who were defending Constantinople.
Queen Califia was eventually conquered, however, she became a subject of admiration around the world, and Hernán Cortés who would come to explore and name the state of California was obviously no exception.
In contemporary times, Queen Califia is portrayed as the Spirit of California in modern-day sculpture, paintings, stories, and films. A few examples are a seven-foot-high panel of Califia with her Amazons at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco, created by Maynard Dixon and Frank Von Sloun at the opening of the hotel in 1926.
There is also a depiction of Califia on the 4th floor in the Senate Rules Committee Hearing Chamber in Sacramento titled “The Naming of California” created by Louise Lloyd.
Also, there is a depiction of Queen Califia in the Disneyland Film, ‘Golden Dreams’ by renowned African American actress, Whoopi Goldberg. For many, she represents a native and lavish land existing before the European occupation.
Historian, John William Templeton who led the Queen Califia exhibit put together by the African American Historical and Cultural Society Museum in San Francisco in 2004, says it is part of a larger story that Africans were seen by Europeans as being culturally advanced in the 15th century.
Even Columbus had a black navigator, Templeton indicates, “Califia is a part of California history, and she also reinforces the fact that when Cortes named this place California, he had 300 black people with him.” states Templeton.
As William E. Hoskins, director of the museum, explains, “one of the things we’re trying to do is let people have the additional insight and appreciation for the contributions of African Americans to this wonderful country and more specifically to the state of California…The Queen Califia exhibit is particularly poignant,”