Amina, Queen of Zazzua

African Warrior Queen

Emir's palace in the ancient city of Zaria
Emir's palace in the ancient city of Zaria. Kerstin Geier / Getty Images

Known for: warrior queen, extending territory of her people. While stories about her could be legends, scholars believe she was an actual person who ruled in what is now the Zaria province of Nigeria.

Dates: about 1533 - about 1600

Occupation: Queen of Zazzua
Also Known as: Amina Zazzua, princess of Zazzua
Religion: Muslim

Sources of the History of Amina

Oral tradition includes many stories about Amina of Zazzua, but scholars generally accept that the stories are based on a real person who ruled Zazzua, a Hausa city-state which is now Zaria province in Nigeria.

The dates of Amina's life and rule are in dispute among scholars.  Some place her in the 15th century and some in the 16th.  Her story does not appear in writing until Muhammed Bello wrote of her accomplishments in the Ifaq al-Maysur  which dates to 1836. The Kano Chronicle, a history written in the 19th century from earlier sources, mentions her as well, putting her rule in the 1400s. She is not mentioned in the list of rulers written from oral history in the 19th century and published in the early 20th, though the ruler Bakwa Turunka appears there, Amina's mother.

The name Amina means truthful or honest.

Background, Family:

  • Grandfather: probably ruler of Zazzua
  • Mother: Bakwa of Turunka, ruling queen of Zazzua
  • Brother: Karama (ruled as king, 1566-1576)
  • Sister: Zariya, for whom the city of Zaria may be named
  • Amina refused to marry and had no children

About Amina, Queen of Zazzua

Amina's mother, Bakwa of Turunka, was the founding ruler of Zazzua as a kingdom, one of many Hausa city-kingdoms involved in trade.

 The collapse of the Songhai empire left a gap in power that these city-states filled.

Amina, born in the city of Zazzua, was trained in skills of government and military warfare, and fought in battles with her brother, Karama.

In 1566, when Bakwa died, Amina's younger brother Karama became king. In 1576 when Karama died, Amina, now about 43, became Queen of Zazzua.

She used her military prowess to expand the territory of Zazzua to the mouth of the Niger in the south and including Kano and Katsina in the north. These military conquests led to great wealth, both because they opened more trading routes, and because conquered territories had to pay tribute.

She is credited with building walls around her camps during her military ventures, and with building a wall around the city of Zaria.  Mud walls around cities became known as "Amina's walls."

Amina is also credited with initiating the cultivation of kola nuts in the area she ruled.

While she never married -- perhaps imitating Queen Elizabeth I of England -- and had no children, legends tell of her taking, after a battle, a man from among the enemy, and spending the night with him, then killing him in the morning so he could tell no stories.

Amina ruled for 34 years before her death. According to the legend, she was killed in a military campaign near Bida, Nigeria.

In Lagos State, at the National Arts Theatre, there is a statue of Amina.  Many schools are named for her.

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