Amina (c. 1533–c. 1598)

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Amina (c. 1533–c. 1598)

Queen of Zaria and sovereign ruler of the Hausa Empire in what is today the northern region of Nigeria, who was one of the most important leaders of West Africa in the last third of the 16th century. Born in the early 16th century; daughter of Queen Turunku Bakwa; sister of Zaria .

Oral tradition places Amina's birth around 1533, during the reign of the Sarkin Zazzau Nohir. The region she was born in, Zazzau, occupies a plain about 60 miles to the south of Kano and has been inhabited for at least the past millennium by Hausa-speaking peoples. Two cities, Turunku and Kufena, dominated the Zazzau region and provided it with political stability, economic security, and a strong sense of cultural continuity. Just before or around the time of her birth, the state of Zazzau was ruled by a queen (sarauniya) named Turunku Bakwa . Turunku Bakwa appears to have come to power during an interregnum in the city of Kufena. Her reign began a period of expansion by force of arms by the Zazzau state, and her daughter Amina, whose reign began in the mid-1570s, brought this period of energetic state-building to its height.

Legend tells us that Amina spent her childhood at the court of her grandfather. The precocious infant was said to be present whenever court was in full session, appearing as early as the age of two at the dais of the king. Her grandfather often carried her, placing her on his lap before proceeding with the royal business of the day. Frequent interaction at court gave Amina political knowledge, skills, and personal confidence that would prove immensely useful in later years. She learned countless details of political and military life directly from her grandfather and other members of the Zazzau noble class. She became magajiya (heir apparent) at age 16 when political and military affairs became an even greater part of her daily existence.

The death of King Karama around the year 1576 brought Amina to power as sarauniya. From the outset of her reign, her policies were based on warfare and a political strategy of unambiguous expansionism. Among her first messages to her subjects was one imploring the leading warriors to resharpen their weapons. After only three months on the throne, she began her first military campaign. Soon she was known in much of West Africa as the fearsome ruler who personally led a well-trained army of 20,000 warriors. Tradition holds that for the rest of her reign her kingdom was at war, expanding its territories. The frontiers of the new state of Zaria eventually expanded to the Atlantic coast and to the River Niger. New cities and walled encampments were established, including the wall around Katsina and the impressive Zaria Wall that remains standing today. While she received tributes from the defeated and intimidated tribal chiefs bordering on her expanding state, it is not certain whether she ever married. Oral tradition states that she took on new lovers whenever warfare ceased, disposing of them when the campaign resumed.

By the end of Amina's reign, Zaria was recognized as the leading state of the Hausa people. She had established the economic as well as military foundations of a great state, introducing and encouraging the spread of the cola nut as a crop. In modern Nigeria, an equestrian statue of Amina has been erected on the grounds of the National Theater in Lagos. She is depicted with sword in hand.


Abubakr, Sa'ad. "Queen Amina of Zaria," in Bolanle Awe, ed., Nigerian Women in Historical Perspective. Lagos and Ibadan: Sankore Publishers Ltd./Bookcraft, 1992, pp. 11–23.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia