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Hidden Queens of Africa: Queen Amina of Zaria

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

“Amina! Amina! Amina! She is a woman greater than any man!”

The people of Zaria, formally known as Zazzau cheered for their warrior Aminatu, granddaughter of Habe Nohi, their last noble leader who was unfortunately killed when Zazzau was invaded by Nupe soldiers under the instruction of Etsu Tsudi (leader of Nupe).

Amina was an only child up until the age of 16/17 and being a girl, the throne was never guaranteed to her. Her father was a lazy, drunk who raped, exploited, and verbally abused her mother, Princess Bakwa who was forbade from parting with her husband until death. From a young age Amina despised her father and the thought of being maltreated by a man thus swearing to never marry which she upheld until her death at 77 years in 1610.

From a young age she was known for her warrior spirit and her grandmother had caught her handling daggers and weapons of war. Whenever she tried to speak out against the traditions of the tribal Hausa land her grandfather, leader of the Zazzau people had silenced her although he felt bad. At the age of 16, her grandfather granted her permission to train as a Sojojin Zazzau warrior where Madaki Maki (head of the warriors) mentored her and taught her to ignore weaknesses and reach deep down within for a strength that was beyond physical.

Amina was the first female ever to train with the Sojojin Zazzau and not all of her fellow warriors were supportive of her. Particularly a boy called Musa who she had mustered spiritual strength to fight despite her being much smaller than him. The story had spread and more stories throughout her training about her sparring and spiritual strength. Madaki Zaki had described it as if a spirit (her ancestors) took over her body when she needed extra strength and she used this power in training, but also to come back and save Zazzau from defeat.

Whilst she was training, she had become fond of a young man called Mahmud who would sneak away with her to sit and watch the river flow. Unfortunately, when Zazzau was captured, he was slaughtered protecting her from Nupe warriors, as was Madaki Zaki and her beloved grandfather Habe Nohi. She soon learnt that her father had set up the invasion in order to take control of Zazzau and be a man of authority, however, even after he became Habe, he didn’t know what to do.

He demoted his wife from a princess to a mere slave and sent his daughter to be raped and abused by Etsu Tsudi and his men. During her enslavement, an old woman poisoned the guards and helped Amina to escape and return to her homeland where she swore to free her people. Upon her arrival, her father was scared as he knew the power she possessed and so he sent the head of the army Madaki Ahmed to kill her. Ahmed had tried to reason with Amina, stating that she is a child and a woman, so she should stop trying to be a warrior. Amina plainly told him

“Call me a child, call me just a girl. It matters not what you call me. It matters what I can do”

and she slayed him. Her father then tried to reason with her, claiming he cared about her after years of mistreating her and her mother and betraying his people. She slit his throat before he was even able to finish his sentence – she did what she had to do to save her people.

Her mother was pregnant when her father was slayed and gave birth to a boy who became King of Zazzau and later a girl named Zaria, who they named the land after. Amina became Madaki Aminatu, head of the Sojojin Zazzau and after her brother’s death was entrusted by her people to become Queen Amina of Zaria. She expanded her territory to the largest in Hausa history and kept an army of approximately 20,000-24,000 men. She profited in the trade of gold, slaves, and agriculture.

Amina feared marriage would reduce her powers and warrior spirit and thus never married. Given the fact that she rescued a young girl called Aisha from being raped by the village tramp Mustapha at a young age, walked in on her mother being raped by her father, and was raped by Etsu Tsudi and his men I understand. She didn’t bear any children either, but it is rumoured that after each successful battle she would take a man and lay with him, then he would be beheaded the next morning. It is possible this rumour was created to discredit her reign as her story has been passed off as pure folklore.

Queen Amina’s legacy is one of much importance because she successfully challenged the role of a women in Hausa society. She was unaware of the fact that she was only allowed to train with the warriors because her grandfather feared for her safety when she would be married off and sent to live in another land where he would not be able to protect. He was slaughtered, in front of all of Zazzau and Amina during Etsu Tsudi’s invasion before he was able to reveal this plan to her.

Amina represents the strength and spirit of womanhood for all of us as women today. All woman have been subject to a man in some way shape or form and I’m not saying this is wrong as there are situations where a man may have authority over us whether he’s our husband, our boss, our landlord, etc. What I’ve learnt from researching Queen Amina is that we should not be afraid to stand up for ourselves, or step into positions of power. As a young girl growing up, I would be afraid to stand up for myself as we are often represented as weak, but it’s so important to let young women know that we are actually stronger than we know.

As much as society has progressed and women are much more respected in positions of power, we still have a long way to go because Amina is remembered (by those who know her) as being “as capable as a man”, when she could just be remembered as being strong – we shouldn’t have to measure up to that of a man because we are different.

Queen Amina believed “if you are to lead your people, then you must never be dominated by emotion or controlled by circumstance” and I stand by her statement. No matter what we must remember our spiritual strength because sometimes emotional and physical strength isn’t enough.

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