Culture, Featured

History – The Tales of Queen Amina

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 19, 2023

Aminatu, commonly referred to as “Queen Amina,” was born in the middle of the sixteenth century to Zazzau’s 22nd ruler, King Nikatau, and Queen Bakwa Turunku. Amina was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku, who seized political power and established herself as ruler of Zazzau in 1536. Amina had a younger sister named Zaria, after whom the current city of Zaria (Kaduna state) was renamed by the British in the early twentieth century. Karami, her younger brother, ascended to the throne of Zazzau following the death of their parents in 1566. Amina was raised in her grandfather’s court, where she received extensive political and military training.

Unlike other women, Amina was fascinated by warfare and received extensive military training. When she was sixteen, she was given forty female slaves (kuyanga) and the title of Magajiya (heir apparent). Amina received numerous marriage proposals from various suitors. Her hand was sought in exchange for a daily offer of ten enslaved Makama people, fifty enslaved men and fifty enslaved women, and fifty bags of white and blue Sarkin Kano cloth. Amina established a reputation for herself as a leading warrior in her brother’s cavalry and gained fame for her military skills when Karami, her brother, became king.

Amina succeeded her brother as queen after his death in 1576. Before she came to power, Zazzau was one of the seven original Hausa states, along with Daura, Kano, Gobir, Katsina, and Rano. Furthermore, Nassau was the main source of enslaved people for Arab traders to sell at slave markets in Kano and Katsina.

Amina launched a 34-year war against her neighbours to expand Zazzau territory just three months after being crowned queen. She commanded a well-trained army of 20,000 foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalrymen. One of her first orders to her subjects was to “resharpen their weapons.” She conquered vast swaths of territory, reaching all the way to Kwararafa and Nupe.

According to legends cited by Sidney John Hogben, she had a new lover in each town she visited, who all allegedly met the same tragic end the next day: “Her brief bridegroom was beheaded so that none would live to tell the tale.” During Amina’s reign, she expanded Zazzau’s territory to unprecedented proportions. She was a brilliant military strategist who built massive walled camps during her many wars and is primarily responsible for the famous Zaria wall. These walls spread throughout the country until the British conquest of Zazzau in 1904, and many still exist today. They are referred to as ganuwar Amina (Amina’s walls).

Various historical accounts provide numerous details about how and where Amina died. Whether or not these accounts are correct, Queen Amina’s role as a conqueror will be forever recorded in history. Her achievements can still be seen in the corridors of the seven original Hausa states and throughout Zaria’s historic town. Amina is remembered for her military achievements, including the construction of defensive walls around Zazzau cities, as well as her pioneering work as a female warrior.

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