Queen Amina of Zaria – The Warrior Queen
Amina (meaning truthful, honest) was born the eldest daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku, who founded the Zazzau Kingdom (which is in modern day Zaria, Nigeria) in 1536. Popularly known as the warrior queen, Queen Amina came to power between 1588 and 1589 A.D, becoming the first woman who ruled an African kingdom for over 30 years in the 16th century.
Queen Amina commanded a vast army which conquered many territories and greatly expanded her kingdom. She fought so many wars, and she won in all. Through her conquests, Queen Amina expanded the area under her reign southward to the great River Niger — including Idah and Nupe Land — and up to Kano in the north.
The expansion of Queen Amina’s kingdom made it the trading centre for all southern Hausa land, spanning the traditional east-to-west trans-Saharan axis and guaranteeing Zaria’s prosperity.
Queen Amina brought untold wealth to the land. Because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armour, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army. She also commanded the construction of defensive murals around each military camp that she established. Later, those camps evolved into prosperous cities within those walls, and some can still be seen today in northern Nigeria. Those cities are known as walls “ganuwar of Amina” or “Amina’s walls”.
The introduction of kola nuts into the region is also attributed to Queen Amina.
Queen Amina is still celebrated across Hausaland as a great warrior queen who was born to rule.
What is Amina remembered for?
She is mostly remembered as the revered warrior queen.
She reigned for 34 years and greatly expanded her kingdom through conquests. She also opened up trade routes and is believed to have initiated the cultivation of kola nuts in the territory she ruled.
The second sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Bello, who was also a son to Usman dan Fodio, the famous Islamic Crusader, first wrote about her in his book ‘Infaku’l Maisuri’ (The Wages of the Fortunate). According to him, Amina was the first to introduce administration as we know it to Hausa societies, and she also had a unique gift of leadership.
Political Skills. At an early age Amina developed an intense interest in politics and public affairs, acquiring political skills not only from her mother but from her grandfather, who was also a Hausa ruler. When Amina was sixteen years old, her mother named her Magajiya (heir apparent) of Zazzau, thus making her a member of the ruler’s cabinet.
Military Prowess. After her mother’s death around 1566, Amina’s brother Karama, ascended the throne. Unlike Bakwa, Karama liked warfare and was interested in expanding the Zazzau empire. Within two years of becoming king, he had organized four major military campaigns. Amina fought in all four. It is said that she took delight in warfare and showed no interest in marrying any of her many suitors. Her bravery and skill as a fighter quickly established her as the leading warrior of Zazzau.
Queen Amina. When Karama died in 1576, the kingmakers did not hesitate to appoint Amina as their next ruler. After only three months on the throne, Amina returned to the battlefield and fought in one military campaign after another until her death at Atagara in 1610. Amina expanded the territorial limits of Zazzau in both the south and the west. On the southwest, she invaded Nupeland and compelled its ruler to pay a tribute of eunuchs and kola nuts to Zazzau. Conquered territories were either incorporated into Zazzau or became its tributary states. Amina is remembered not only for her pioneering efforts as a woman warrior but also for her military innovations, including building fortified walls around Zazzau cities. She had a long reign as queen of Zazzau, ruling for thirty-four years.