Amina of Zazzau

Photo of the Queen Amina Statue, Lagos. Image Credit: WikiCommons

By Catherine Capel

This sixteenth century queen ruled over her domains for nearly forty years and is the only female ruler of Zazzau, modern day northern Nigeria, recorded for almost nine hundred years.

Zazzau, renamed Zaria in the twentieth century by the British, was an important trade centre and a Hasau state established after the fall of the Songhai empire.

Amina was the daughter of Sarkin (King) Nikatau and Queen Bakwa Turunku and under the rule of her brother and predecessor, she rode in his cavalry, becoming known as a “a woman as capable as a man.”

After the death of her brother, she ascended to the throne and continued her military campaigns, expanding the kingdom to its biggest recorded size, conquering Nupe and Kororofa and extending her influence to Kano and Katsina.

Amina built walls around the territories she conquered, many of which still stand today. She was not just an accomplished military leader, she also increased the trade of the kingdom and introduced the kola nut, which was considered a luxury item.

Although she never married, it was noted by Bonnie Smith and Guida Jackson that Amina was known to take lovers regularly in the areas she conquered whom she beheaded the morning after.

It is not known how her reign ended but Amina forged herself a reputation which has been the inspiration for historical fiction and immortalised in statues.

Recommended Reading

Antoinette Tidjani Alou, “Niger and Sarraounia: One Hundred Years of Forgetting Female Leadership”, Research in African Literatures 40.1 (2009): 42-56    

Bonnie G. Smith, “Aminatua, Queen of Zaria,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Volume 1, edited by Bonnie G. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008).

Guida M. Jackson, “Amina,” in Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999)

Molefi Kete Asante, The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).

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