Aminatu, commonly known as Queen Amina of the city-state Zazzau (now the city of Zaria in Kaduna State), is significantly recognized as the first woman to become a queen in a male-dominated society in ancient Africa and of the greatest warrior queens in the continent. Her story is characterized by courage, and resilience, and is seen as an inspiration by many women. Queen Amina singlehandedly headed an army of 20,000 men, while she ruled Zaria for 34 years.
Amina was born in 1533 to King Nikatau, the 22nd ruler of Zazzau, and Queen Bakwa Turunku. Her existence was 200 years before the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate federation that governed Nigeria during the period of British colonial rule following the Islamic jihad (holy war) that overtook the region in the 19th century. Growing up royalty, Amina had abundant access to opulence. The family had become rich as a result of trading in imported metals, cloth, cola, salt, horses and imported metals. Legends say that Amina was raised in her grandfather’s court and was his favourite. Accompanied by her grandfather, she will witness court meetings and be privy to political and military matters. Amina had a younger sister named Zaria for whom the modern city of Zaria (Kaduna State) was renamed by the British in the early twentieth century.
When Amina’s father died in 1566, the kingship and governance of Zazzau were automatically transferred to Amina’s younger brother, Karama. When her father was in power, Amina trained extensively in the military with the warriors of the Zazzau cavalry. This eventually led her to become the leader of the Zazzau cavalry and received numerous accolades and wealth. 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.”
Karama died in 1576 and his reign eventually came to a halt. Amina finally occupied the seat of power and ultimately became Queen. Her reputation as a fierce and fearless fighter was enough for everyone to support her rulership.
Queen Amina’s Rule
Zazzau was one of the original seven Hausa States and one of the largest. The others were Daura, Kano, Gobir, Katsina, Rano, and Garun Gabas. Before Amina ascended to the throne, Zazzau was one of the largest of these states. At the time of Amina’s reign, Zazzau was also situated at the crossroads of three major trade corridors of Northern Africa, linking the Sahara with the remote markets of the Southern forest lands and Western Sudan. The period at the time was tense and hostile. The rise and fall of the powerful and more dominant Songhai people, and the resulting competition for control of trade routes, incited continual warring among the Hausa people and their neighbouring settlements during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Just three months after being crowned queen, Amina waged a 34-year campaign against her neighbours to expand Zazzau territory to its greatest in history. She was in charge of an army of 20,000 men and 1,000 cavalry troops. Queen Amina conquered several cities such as Kwararafa and Nupe. She ruled Katsina and Kano. The objectives of her conquests were twofold: extension of Zazzau beyond its primary borders and reduction of conquered cities to vassal status. It was rumoured that she took a new lover in every town she went through. The legends say that “her brief bridegroom was beheaded so that none should live to tell the tale.”
Under Amina, Zazzau controlled more territory than ever before. Amina had her cities surrounded by tough clay walls to mark and protect her new lands. These walls became commonplace across the nation until the British conquest of Zazzau in 1904. Nevertheless, many of these walls survive today and are known as ganuwar Amina (Amina’s walls). These walls are clear shreds of evidence highlighting the existence of the powerful woman figure, who, many have denied her existence.
Amina brought unimaginable wealth to the land of Zazzau. She boosted her kingdom’s revenue with gold, slaves and new crops. Since the people of Zazzau were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armour, including iron helmets and chain mail to her army.
Queen Amina is said to have died in a place called Attaagar in 1610. Although there have been other added bits of information.
It was reported that after Queen Amina’s death, the ruling-class Hausa women experienced a steady decline in their influence and were deprived of autonomous control.