Queen Amina is legendary in Nigeria. She is famed among the Hausa people for her military victories and her great leadership.
She was born in 1533, the eldest daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku, the woman who established the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. Queen Amina’s reign is often dated to about 1549, when she took over the kingdom after the death of her mother and the disastrous reign of her brother.
The medieval kingdom of Zazzau was located in the region now known as the Kaduna State in the north-central region of Nigeria. Zazzua was a Hausa city-state that dominated the trans-Saharan trade following the collapse of the Songhai Empire. Its wealth was due to the trade of key commodities such as imported metals, leather goods, kola, cloth, horses, and salt.
Known as a great military strategist and cavalrywoman, Queen Amina fought many successful wars that expanded her Hausa kingdom, the southern-most in West Africa. Her first military expedition took place three months after she came to power and she continued fighting until her death thirty-four years later. During her reign, she expanded the Zazzua Kingdom to its greatest extent.
Her goal in fighting was to control the trade routes in her region. She established a network of trade that linked the earthen walls that surrounded the Hausa cities that lay within her territory. Some of these walls still exist, and are, even today, called “Amina’s walls.”
Because her people were talented metal workers – and because the Kingdom traded in a great deal of imported metal — Amina introduced metal armor, including helmets and chain mail, to her army.
History tells us that Amina refused to marry and never had any children. Legend also says that she died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in Nigeria.
She is remembered today as “Amina, Yar Bakwa ta san rana,” meaning “Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.”