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  • William Tyler

AMINA: A 16th century Nigerian Queen

A very small contribution for Black History Month, and a little late too.


Introduction

This is the story of Queen Amina of the northern Nigerian kingdom of Zazzau, more commonly referred to today by the name of its principal city, Zaria. There is still an Emir of Zaria in 2021.


Amina

Amina's story comes from the 16th/17th centuries, and is contemporary to that of Queen Elizabeth I of England. It is difficult in Amina's case to distinguish between history and legend as no written record exists until the 19th century, and that is a sparse one. The account which today is drawn on to tell Amina's story was collected at the beginning of the 20th century by an Englishman. He based it on the oral tales which he traced in the Emirate. Such oral tales although historical, over time became glossed with legend; such as the story that every town and city Amina conquered during her reign she spent the first night with a lover from the town, but in the morning had him killed so as he could not gossip. This is quite obviously a tale with a classic folk motif. We do, however, have one unequivocal contemporary reference to Amina's existence. This is in a map drawn by a European in 1573, which lists in what is now Northern Nigeria a place called, 'The Castle of Amina'.


Amina is said to have been born, the daughter of the king, in 1533, succeeded her brother to the throne in 1576, and died in 1610. She is known as a warrior and as a general of cavalry in her brother's reign. An unusual skill for a woman at that time.


Her own reign saw a a great expansion in both territory and trade; she is credited with establishing new trade routes. Zazzau itself was the centre of slaving, supplying slaves to the markets of Kano for Arab traders from beyond the Sahara who brought in exchange the much needed commodity of salt.


Her lasting legacy are the great earthen walls set up as defences around her kingdom's cities. Many still exist in the region and are known today as 'Amina's Walls'.


Zazzau

  1. Her kingdom, or Queendom , of Zazzau was one of the seven Hausa kingdoms, and the one that was furthest south.

  2. Islam reached Zazzau in the mid 15th century, so Amina herself was brought up as a Muslim.

  3. Islam spread somewhat slowly until the kingdom was conquered by the nomadic Moslem Fulani in 1808 when Islam became the widespread religion of the region.

  4. The former ruler of Zazzau fled to Abuja where he established himself as Emir of Sulija.

  5. Today the people of Zazzau/Zaria are known as Hausa-Fulani.

  6. In 1901 the Emirate came under British 'protection' when Sir Frederick Lugard arrived in the area.

  7. Nigeria, south and north, was united under Lugard's Governor-Generalship in 1914.


Film

You can view a Nigerian blockbuster film called simply 'Amina' on Netflix

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