Amina was born around 1533 in Zaria. She was born to the ruler, Bakwa of Turunku, who lived in the city state of Zazzau. When her father died in 1566, the crown was conferred upon Amina’s younger brother, Karama. Her father’s reign was characterized by peace and prosperity. Upon the death of her brother after a 10 year rule, she emerged as a leader of the Zazzau cavalry, during which time she accumulated great wealth and numerous military accolades. She was known as the warrior queen; Queen Amina of Zaria was the first woman to become the Sarauniya (queen) in a male-dominated society. She expanded the territory of the Hausa people of North Africa to its largest borders in history.
The context of Queen Amina’s leadership was pre-colonial Nigeria, where men did not feel threatened when women were in powerful positions, as it was usually understood that they deserved to be there because of age, kinship or merit, not gender. While socially and economically, pre-colonial Nigerian societies clearly delineated women’s and men’s roles this did not preclude women from asserting their authority on themselves.
The expansion of Amina’s kingdom made it the trading centre for all of southern Hausa land, spanning the traditional east-to-west trans-Saharan axis and guaranteeing Zaria’s prosperity. She brought wealth unheard of to the land. She boosted her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves and new crops. Because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal amour, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army.
The obstacles facing women in Nigeria and across Africa may persist, yet the legacies and examples of women such as Amina point to the possibilities that exist for African women to reshape the destinies of their societies and communities.