Queen Amina: Warrior Extraordinaire
Although many oral legends have complicated her legacy, Queen Amina continues to be considered one of the greatest African Queens in Warfare. The most popular praise song in her honour sings “Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man that was able to lead men to war”.
Life and times of Queen Amina
In the sixteenth century, precisely 1533, Amina was born in Zauzzau, present-day Zaria in Kaduna, Nigeria. Her father was Nikatau, the 22nd ruler of Zauzzau and her mother was Queen Bakwa Turunku. Amina, being the eldest, had two siblings named Karama and Zaria. She was born into a wealthy family that traded in cloth, imported metals, salt, horses, and kola nuts. She grew up with her grandparents and her grandmother always caught her playing with daggers. This was unusual for a girl child so she decided to bring it to her husband’s notice. Amina’s grandfather realized that she seemed interested in politics and warfare and began teaching and training her. He would sit her on his lap whenever he attended state affairs and she grew up to become a highly-skilled swordsman.
At 16, she was named the “heir apparent” (Magajiya) and was given 40 female slaves (Kuyanga). She had a number of suitors who attempted to marry her and for example, with each attempt from Makama came a daily offer of 10 slaves and each attempt from the Emir of Kano came 50 male slaves, 50 female slaves, and 50 bags of white and blue cloth. Amina rejected all offers of marriage she got and focused on being an exemplary warrior. Her parents died in 1566 and her younger brother, Karama, ascended the throne. Amina became his army commandant. She fought and won many fierce battles for him. This earned her the respect of the male-dominated Zauzzau military. Unfortunately, her brother was only able to reign for 9years before he died in 1576.
Amina ascended the throne after her brother’s death and became the first female ruler of Zauzzau, reigning from 1576-1610. After 3 months of her ascent to the throne, Amina waged a 34-year campaign against her neighbors with 20,000-foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalry troops- all well-trained and fearsome, under her command. The seven Hausa states- Zauzzau, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Rano, Garun Gabas, and Daura, made up the kingdom of Zauzzau but that did not stop Amina from expanding her territories as far as Kwararafa and Nupe. Amina won conquest after conquest and began to represent the strength and spirit of womanhood. She opened up trade routes throughout Northern Africa, especially after the decline of the Songhai Empire. She introduced the cultivation of Kolanut, thereby creating more trade avenues within the region. She also built earthen walls around her new lands for protection, many of which still exist today and are known as “Amina’s walls” (Ganuwar Amina).
Death of Queen Amina
Historic accounts state that in 1610, Amina died in Atagara, present day Idah in Kogi state, Nigeria. The exact circumstances of her death remain unknown. She was never married nor had children.