Commonly known as the warrior queen, Queen Amina of Zaria was the first woman to become the Sarauniya (queen) in a male-dominated society. She expanded the territory of the Hausa people of north Africa to its largest borders in history.
Amina was born around 1533 in Zaria. She lived approximately 200 years prior to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate federation that governed Nigeria during the period of British colonial rule following the Islamic jihad (holy war) that overtook the region in the 19th century.
She was born to the ruler, Bakwa of Turunku, who lived in the city state of Zazzau. The family was wealthy as a result of trading in imported metals, cloth, cola, salt, horses and imported metals. When her father died in 1566, the crown was conferred upon Amina’s younger brother, Karama. Although her father’s reign was characterised by peace and prosperity, Amina nonetheless chose to spend her time honing her military skills with the warriors of the Zazzau cavalry.
This led to her eventually emerging as a leader of the Zazzau cavalry, during which time she accumulated great wealth and numerous military accolades. Upon the death of her brother after a 10 year rule, Amina had matured into a fierce warrior and earned the respect of the Zazzau military, so she was able to assume the reign of the kingdom.
From the year she took on the mantle of her nation’s leadership till the last years, Amina was always waging one battle or another. She became an accomplished warrior ensuring safe passage for Zazzau and other Hausa traders throughout the Saharan region, conquering all the towns as far as Kwarafa in the north and Nupe in the south. At a time, she dominated the entire area of Kano, Gobir, Katsina, Daura and Rano and became a threat to nations in the western Sudan and Mali.
She invented the use of metal armour for the purposes of warfare in Hausaland, including iron helmets and chain mail as well as building fortifications around Zazzau and her military camps, some which endure till today. The practice of erecting defensive walls gained currency all over the Hausa states and these walls are known today as Amina walls.
Even though, some of these walls were built after her reign. She strengthened Zazzau and improved the kingdom’s wealth and power. Legend has it that she prayed before expeditions at a place called Dutsen Hiya, a site which can still be seen today in her hometown.
The expansion of Amina’s kingdom made it the trading centre for all of southern Hausaland, spanning the traditional east-to-west trans-Saharan axis and guaranteeing Zaria’s prosperity. Amina brought unheard-of wealth to the land; one description cites a tribute payment of 40 eunuchs and 10,000 kola nuts. ‘She boosted her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves and new crops. Because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armour, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army.
According to legend, Amina refused to marry and instead took a temporary husband from the legions of vanquished foes after every battle.
Legend also have it that she died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in Nigeria. 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.
For her bravery and accomplishments, a statue was built in her honour at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos, Nigeria and several educational institutions in Nigeria bear her name.