Amina Mohamud or simply Amina was a Hausa warrior queen of the city-state Zazzau, in what is now in the north-west region of Nigeria. She ruled in the mid-sixteenth century. Her real biography has been somewhat obscured by subsequent legends and folk tales.
Amina of Zaria, commonly called the warrior queen, and also known as Queen Amina of Zaria, was said to have expanded the territory of the Hausa people of North Africa to the largest borders in history.
She was also known as Amina Sarauniya Zazzau, who lived approximately 200 years prior to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate that governed Nigeria during the period of British colonial rule following the Islamic jihad (holy war) and overtook the region in the nineteenth century.
According to some findings, Queen Amina ruled for 34 years at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Also, some oral legends collected by anthropologist David E. Jones revealed that Amina as a young girl grew up in her grandfather, King Zazzau Nohir’s court and was favoured by him. He reportedly carried her around the court as he gave her instructions on political and military matters.
As a result, the memory of Queen Amina assumed legendary proportions in her native Hausa land and beyond. The extent of her military prowess and her performance in battle was augmented and remains unclear.
However, some reports have it that after the death of her parents in or around 1566, Amina’s brother became King of Zazzau, this was at a time when Amina has distinguished herself as a prolific and leading warrior with her notoriety and military skills in her brother’s calvary.
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 neighbouring 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.
The citizens of Hausa land at that time displayed advanced skills in the industrial arts of tanning, weaving, and metal working, in contrast to the inhabitants of the neighbouring territories and surrounding cultures, where agriculture remained the dominant activity.
The Hausa social hierarchy, as a result, was bound less rigidly in the social standings of tradition, which were based on hereditary factors.
Amina was born the eldest of three royal siblings.
An account has it that she was said to be 16 years old when her noble parent, the powerful Bakwa of Turunku (var. Barkwa Turunda), inherited the throne of Zazzau. Historical accounts of Bakwa, the 22nd habe of Zazzau, vary as to whether Bakwa was Amina’s father or mother.
Although the reign of Bakwa was known for peace and prosperity, the history of the Hausa people was nonetheless characterised by military campaigns for the purpose of increasing commerce.
During the years between 1200-1700 Hausa land was, in fact, fraught with warring parties.
These descended into neighbouring territories that were inhabited by the Jukun and the Nupe to the south, in an effort to control trade and to expand the Hausa communities into more desirable environs.
The Hausa, in turn, were conquered intermittently during those years by various other peoples.
The Mali, Fulani, and Bornu were among the aggressors in these clashes. During the reign of Bakwa, the teenaged Amina occupied herself in honing her battle skills, under the guidance of the soldiers of the Zazzau military.
As was the custom of the region, the rule of Zazzau fell to Amina’s brother, Karama, upon the death of Bakwa in 1566.
Although Karama was the younger of the two, it was the male heir who took precedence in ascending the throne. The third sibling, a sister named Zaria, eventually fled the region.
By the time Amina assumed the throne, following the death of her brother in the 10th year of his rule, she had matured into a fierce warrior and had earned the respect of the Zazzau military.
In fact, Amina established her dominance as the head of the Zazzau cavalry even before she came to rule the city-state.
Within three months of inheriting the throne, Queen Amina embarked on what was to be the first in an ongoing series of military engagements associated with her rule.
She accordingly stood in command of an immense military band and personally led the cavalry of Zazzau through an ongoing series of campaigns, waging battle continually throughout the course of her sovereignty.
She spent the duration of her 34-year reign in military aggression.
Although the military campaigns of Amina were characterised as efforts to ensure safe passage for Zazzau and other Hausa traders throughout the Saharan region, the practice proved effective in significantly expanding the limits of Zazzau territory to the largest boundaries before and since.
According to African chronicler, P. J. M. McEwan, “Amina conquered all the towns as far as Kwararafa [to the north] and Nupe [in the south].” According to all indications, she came to dominate much of the region known as Hausa land 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 Hausa land included Rano, Kano, Daura, Gobir, and Katsina.
At one time, Amina dominated the entire area, along with the associated trade routes connecting the western Sudan with Egypt on the east and Mali in the north.
In keeping with the custom of the times, she collected tributes of kola nuts and male slaves from her subject cities.
Also, as was the custom of the Hausa people, Amina built walls around the encampments of the territories that she conquered. Some of the walls survived into modern times; thus her legacy remained entrenched in both the culture and landscape of her native Hausa city-states.
Some have suggested that a neighbouring Hausa king, named Sarkin Kanajeji, held Amina at a serious disadvantage in waging battle against his army, because Kanajeji’s soldiers wore iron helmets for protection.
Others, however, have credited Amina with the introduction of metal armour, including the iron helmets and chain mail.
It has been further suggested that she was responsible for the introduction of the new armour to the Hausa city-state of Kano. Regardless of its origin, the innovation of protective armour arrived in Hausa land during the era of Amina.
This was because the Hausa of Zazzau were also well skilled in the metalworking crafts.
Some historians have credited Amina with originating the Hausa practice of building the military encampments behind fortress walls.
Even, the 15-kilometre wall surrounding the modern day city of Zaria dates back to Amina and is known as ganuwar Amina (Amina’s wall).
Additionally, a distinctive series of walls wind throughout the countryside in the vicinities of the ancient city-states of Hausa land.
These came to be called Amina’s walls to the rest of the world, although not all of the walls were built during the reign of Amina.
Foreign visitors who travelled to Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries collected many of the historical accounts of those times.
Also, renowned Historians, J. F. Ajayi and Michael Crowder suggested that Amina lived in the fifteenth century rather than the sixteenth century. Ajayi and Crowder attribute their conclusion to information found in Bello’s Chronicle.
The chronicles, believed to have portray the history of Africa with some accuracy, dates Amina back to the time of Sarki (king) Dauda whose father was believed to have ruled from 1421 until 1438.
In this regard, there may be some confusion with the reign of Da’ud, conqueror of Macina, who ruled from 1549 until 1582.
Ajayi suggested that Hausa land suffered desperately from severe aggression from Songhai to the west during the sixteenth century, and it may be unlikely that the expansionist policies of Amina prevailed at such a difficult time.
Likewise reports that Amina
collected tribute from Bornu may be improbable in the context of the sixteenth century, as Zaria and many other Hausa city-states had, by that time, fallen to the control of Songhai and had suffered further aggression from Bornu to the east.
Such domination by Songhai and Bornu, if depicted with accuracy, preclude the possibility that the Hausa achieved extensive domination during the reign of Amina, if indeed she lived at the end of the sixteenth century.
The dearth of facts combined with the significance of the conquests of Amina have defined a legendary persona for the warrior queen of Nigeria.
According to oral tradition, Amina took a new husband from the legions of vanquished foes after every battle and after spending one night with the Zazzau queen, each man was slain. Additionally, it is common belief that Amina died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in Nigeria. In the twentieth century, the memory of Amina came to represent the spirit and strength of womanhood.
For her exploits, she earned the epithet of Amina, Yar Bakwa ta san rana (Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man).
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.”
In fact, she was a great woman as recorded for her generation.