Princess Amina of Zazzau

Queen Amina

The reign of Amina occurred at a time when the city-state of Zazzau was situated at the crossroad of three major trade corridors of northern Africa, connecting the region of the Sahara with the remote markets of the southern forest lands and the western Sudan. It was the rise and fall of the powerful and more dominant Songhai (var. Songhay) people and the resulting competition for control of trade routes that incited continual warring among the Hausa people and the neighboring settlements during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was not until later that a ruling arrangement between the Hausa and the Fulani people ultimately brought a lasting peace to the region and survived into the colonial era of the nineteenth century. –

Her Life

Queen Aminatu was born a princess around 1533 in Zazzau, a province known as Zaria in today’s Nigeria. Amina was the twenty-fourth habe, as the rulers of Zazzau were called and she is believed to have been the granddaughter of King Zazzau Nohir. She was the elder daughter of Bakwa of Turunku. Their family’s wealth was derived from the trade of leather goods, cloth, kola, salt, horses and imported metals. In 1549 she became the heir apparent (Magajiya) to her mother. With the title came responsibility for a ward in the city where she convened daily councils with other officials and around this time She also began training with the cavalry. The Hausa social hierarchy, as a result, was bound less rigidly in the social standings of tradition, which were based on hereditary factors. When Bakwa died in 1566, the crown of Zazzau passed to Amina’s brother, Karama. Although Karama was the younger of the two, it was the male heir who took precedence in ascending the throne.  Their sister, Zariya, fled the region and little is known about her.

Queen Amina)

Although Bakwa’s reign was known for peace and prosperity, Princess Amina chose to hone her military skills from the warriors of the Zazzau military. Under her brother King Karama, she served in the military in different capacity. And as a result, she emerged as leader of the Zazzau cavalry. Many accolades, great wealth, and increased power resulted from her numerous military achievements. In 1576 she became the undisputed ruler of Zazzau when her brother Karama died after a ten-year rule, and at the time of his death, Princess Amina had matured into a fierce warrior, Distinguished as a soldier and an empire builder, and had earned the respect of the Zazzau military hence it was easy for her to assumed the reign of the kingdom.

Princess Amina
Queen Amina

Queen Amina was a great military strategist; the Calvary-trained queen 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 her kingdom to 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. Because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armor, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army. She built walled forts as area garrisons to consolidate the territory conquered after each campaign. Later, towns and villages sprung up within these protective barriers.  Some of these forts still stand today and also she is credited with popularizing the earthen city wall fortifications, which became characteristic of all Hausa city-states. The walls became known as “ganuwar Amina” or Amina’s Walls and many of them remain in existence to this day.

Queen Amina subdued the whole area between Zazzau and the Niger and Benue rivers, absorbing the Nupe and Kwararafa states. According to all indications, she came to dominate much of the region known as Hausaland and beyond, throughout an area called Kasashen Bauchi, prior to the settlement of the so-called Gwandarawa Hausas of Kano in the mid 1600s. Kasashen Bauchi in modern terms comprises the middle belt of Nigeria. In addition to Zazzau, the city-states of central Hausaland included Rano, Kano, Daura, Gobir, and Katsina. The Kano Chronicle, an important Hausa history, says: “Every town paid her tribute. The Sarkin Nupe [i.e. king of Nupe] sent her forty eunuchs and ten thousand kolas … In her time all the products of the west came to Hausaland”.

According to the Sankore Institute of Islamic – African Studies International, a non-profit, non-political educational institution, reporting on this region of the Hausa:

These seven regions witnessed many unusual and strange events. The first to establish government among them, as it has been claimed, was Amina, the daughter of the Amir of Zakzak. She made military assaults upon these lands until she proclaimed herself over them by force. The lands of Katsina and Kano were forced to hand over levy to her. She also made incursions into the lands of Bauchi until she reached the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west. She died in a place called Attaagar. It was for this reason that the kingdom of Zakzak was the most extensive among the kingdoms of Hausa, since Bauchi included many regions.

More recent oral tradition has a series of lively stories about the queen, and these have found their way into popular culture. Among them were: Amina was a fierce warrior and loved fighting. As a child, her grandmother Marka, the favorite wife of her grandfather Sarkin Nohir, once caught her holding a dagger. Amina holding the dagger did not shock Marka, rather it was that Amina held it exactly as a warrior would. As an adult, she refused to marry for the fear of losing power. She helped Zazzau (Zaria) become the center of trade and to gain more land. Her mother, Bakwa, died when Amina was 36 years old, leaving her to rule over Zaria. She was also said to have taken a lover from among the conquered people after each battle, and to have killed or castrated him in the morning following their night together.

Queen Amina).
Artwork of Queen Amina in Battle

Queen Amina’s achievement was the closest that any ruler had ever come in bringing the region now known as Northern Nigeria under a single authority and Zaria (aka Birnin Zaria) was named after Queen Amina’s younger sister Zariya, and is where the Royal Palace of the Zazzau kingdom reside even up till today.. Legend also decrees she died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in Nigeria.  While another story is been told about a rich, wise, and cunning Arabian trader who heard about the queen and made his way to her, with his wealth and influence he was able to make his way with her and made love to her and then he left swiftly in the middle of the night immediately after they made love while she was exhausted and still asleep, and with the help of his inside men in her palace he made his way out and never returned…. But whatever the legends of her may be; whether she died in battle or just disappeared, Queen Amina will forever be remembered as a strong, brave and courageous black woman.  Her exploits earned her the moniker Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man. Her legendary escapades made her the model for the television series Xena Warrior Princess. Today, her memory represents the spirit and strength of womanhood.

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Disclaimer: Africa Heritages claims no credits to none of the images used in this write up.

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