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Nigerian history is dominated by powerful monarchs. These monarchs are usually men. The existence of powerful women in Nigerian history is almost mythical. Queen Moremi Ajansoro and Queen Idia are some of the few known iconic monarchs in Nigerian History. And as powerful and magnificent
they were. They were not rulers over the kingdoms they saved and fought for or at least weren’t documented to be. Queen Amina of Zazzau: Sauraniya Yariman Arewa is the only recorded female ruler of Zazzau modern-day Zaria, Kaduna state. A controversial figure whose existence has been questioned by historians, her real biography has sadly been obscured by subsequent legends and folk tales after her death.
Amina was born in the middle of the sixteenth century CE to King Nikatau, the 22nd ruler of Zazzau, and Queen Bakwa Turunku ( 1536 1566). She had a younger sister named Zariya for whom the modern city of Zaria (Kaduna State) was renamed by the British in the early twentieth century. According to oral
legends collected by anthropologist David E. Jones, Amina grew up in her grandfather’s court and was favoured by him. He carried her around the court and instructed her carefully in political and military matters. As a child, her grandmother ‘Marka’, the favourite wife of her grandfather; Sarkin Noir once
caught her holding a dagger. Amina holding the dagger didn’t shock her grandmother; what shocked her was the exact way Amina held the dagger – exactly the way a warrior would.
At age sixteen, Amina was named Magajiya (heir apparent) and was given forty female slaves (Guyana). From an early age, Amina had several suitors attempt to marry her. Attempts to gain her hand included “a daily offer of ten slaves” from Makama and “fifty male slaves and fifty female slaves as well as fifty bags of white and blue cloth” from the Sarkin Kano. After the death of her parents in or around 1566, Amina’s brother became king of Zazzau. At this point, Amina had distinguished herself as a “leading warrior in her brother’s cavalry” and gained notoriety for her military skills. She is still celebrated today in traditional Hausa praise songs as “Amina daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man that was able to lead men to war.”
By the time her brother, Karama died after a 10-year reign Queen Amina had grown into a fierce warrior and was respected by the Zazzau Military and assumed reign over the kingdom.
At the time Zazzau was one of the biggest hubs of commerce on the trans-Saharan trade routes. Amina led her first military charge a few months after assuming power. For the rest of her 34-year reign, she continued to fight and expand Zazzau to become the greatest in history. The objective for initiating so
many battles was to make neighbouring rulers her vassal and permit her traders’ safe passage. In this way, she boosted her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves, and new crops and because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armour, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army.
Before her reign, Before Amina assumed the throne, Zazzau was one of the largest of these states. It was also the primary source of slaves that would be sold at the slave markets of Kano and Katsina by Arab merchants. Her army, consisting of 20,000-foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalry troops, was well trained and fearsome. One of her first announcements to her people was a call for them to “resharpen their weapons.” She conquered large tracts of land as far as Kwararafa and Nupe.
As seen from her early life Queen Amina was not a woman who wanted to get married. Legends cited by John Hogben say that she had a new lover in every town she went through. The unfortunate men would be beheaded by morning she did this so that no one would live to tell of the affair. To mark and protect
her new lands, Amina had her cities surrounded by earthen walls. These walls became commonplace across the nation until the British Conquest of Zazzau in 1904, and many of them survive today, known as Ganuwar Amina (Amina’s walls).
Queen Amina’s death is unsure. But the most common account was given by a Muslim Scholar named Dan Tafa. Their account was the 1st account of her dying during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida around 1633. There is another slightly less common account of her encounter with the wealthy Arabian
prince who had heard of her fame and crossed the desert to be with her. He spent a night with her and before Amina could wake up in the morning to kill the Arabian Prince who had seen her naked, he had escaped before dawn into the desert. It was said that the Queen went amok knowing the fact that a
man lived to see her naked and talk about it. She took her life when she couldn’t bear the torture of the affair becoming public.
Even in death queen Amina’s story and legacy have remained an inspiration to a lot of women. Her reign grew her kingdom and left the last impression in history. As the British historian, Micheal Crowder noted, after Amina’s death; “ruling class Hausa women experienced a steady diminution in their influence and were systematically deprived of their authority and autonomy. The traditional titles and offices relating to authority over women and redress of their grievances have now become nominal or have been discarded altogether.”
Her success as a female monarch, unfortunately, did not trickle down to her successors and there was no record of a female monarch in Northern Nigeria after her. But her reign has left Zazzau with a fortification that exists to date and Kola nut cultivation that never existed before her reign. She also created trade routes throughout northern Africa. All of these exploits have impressed and shocked many and given her a lasting reputation. Sultan Bello of Sokoto wrote; “Strange things have happened in the history of the seven Hausa States, and the most strange of these is the extent of the possessions which God gave to Aminatu, daughter of the ruler of Zazzau. She waged war in the Hausa lands and took them all so that the men of Katsina and the men of Kano brought her tribute. She made war in Bauchi and against the other towns of the south and the west so that her possession stretched down to the shores of the sea.”