Madam Yoko was a great leader of the Mende people in Sierra Leone. Combining advantageous lineage, shrewd marriage choices, and the power afforded her from the secret Sande society, Madam Yoko became a leader of considerable influence.
Madam Yoko, originally called Soma was born around 1849 in the Gbo Chiefdom. She later changed her name to Yoko at her Sande initiation ceremony, which she became known for because of her graceful dancing. Her first marriage was to a man by the name of Gongoima which did not last. She later married her second husband Gbenjei, Chief of Taiama. Her third husband was Gbanya Lango. In 1875, he was detained by British colonial officials in Taiamawaro. Yoko went to the Governor to appeal for her husband released. The Governor was so impressed that Gbanya was released.
Madam Yoko was respected among the Mende women and the Mende society as a whole. As a leader in this secret women’s society, she made political alliances and took younger initiates as “wards.” She established a famous Sande bush in Senehun where she trained girls from throughout Kpaa Mende, sometimes giving the most beautiful in marriage to sergeants of the Frontier Police or to important chiefs.
The British declared their Protectorate in 1898 and Madam Yoko commanded her people pay the new tax but many rebelled. A secret meeting was held blaming Yoko for ruining the country because she supported the British police, taxes and labor. Yoko took refuge in the police barracks but withstood several attacks. She was later awarded with a silver medal for her loyalty by Queen Victoria. Yoko died in 1906, because she had no descendants her brother succeeded her.