Aminatu, also known as Amina, was born a princess in the 1530s. She was the daughter of Queen Bakwa of Zazzau, a medieval African kingdom that was based in present-day Nigeria.
As a child of just five years, Aminatu was caught by her grandmother with a dagger in her hand. What shocked the old woman wasn’t that the little girl was holding a blade, but that she gripped it precisely as a trained warrior would.
Asked why she what she intended with the dagger, Aminatu casually replied, “I will use it to make a great kingdom!”.
“We already have a kingdom, my girl,” argued the old woman.
“No, I want a kingdom as big as England,” replied the little girl. Her grandmother used to tell Aminatu stories about England and the Great Britain, and the little girl had grown fond of the fairytale-like stories. She was extremely fascinated with the quests of Arthur and Alfred the Great.
Although her grandmother and mother explained to her that a princess was expected to live like a lady, without thinking of war or quests, the little girl maintained her stand. She wanted to train as a soldier and lead armies to conquer neighboring lands and expand her kingdom.
Amina, albeit being the first child of the queen, was not meant to be the ruler. That’s because she had a brother, and according to the customs, sons got precedence in the ascension. Her family discouraged her from engaging in military training based on that fact, arguing that it was her brother’s obligation to receive such training. But Amina refused to listen.
“I will become queen and make a huge kingdom,” she would say. Some argued that the girl had the plans of murdering her brother. Some said it was a young girl’s silly dream. But the little princess was determined to be a great warrior and queen.
At the age of 8, she started training secretly, and by the age of 12, she was allowed to join the military and receive official training. Her family could deter the girl no more, and besides, she portrayed unique fighting skills, even better than some trained male soldiers.
When her mother, Bakwa, passed on, Aminatu’s younger brother, Karama, assumed the throne. Aminatu did not fight him over the crown. By now, she was matured, and had accepted the customs of the land regarding ascension. Her plan now was to help her younger brother expand the kingdom and make it flourish.
Aged slightly less than 30 at the time, Amina focused on honing her skills as a warrior. During her brother’s reign, she served as a military officer. Her extremely daunting exercises included climbing thorny walls and going on hunger-game style missions in the forests west of modern-day Sudan. Legend has it that she was the inspiration behind the fearsome Mino warriors of the kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa.
But Amina did not just train; she also came up with strategies. Utilizing her natural intellect, the education she had received as a princess, and the training she got in the military, Amina would draw up great battle strategies for her brother’s army. She successfully led raids, bringing home wonderful treasures including gold and metal weapons. As a result, Aminatu was made the leader of the Zazzau army.
As fate would have it, Amina’s brother died just ten years after his reign. At the time, Amina was 36 years old. Her only brother’s death left Amina as the next eligible candidate for the throne, which she took without facing any resistance. Although the people naturally didn’t favor female monarchs, no one dared to challenge the fierce warrior queen. Besides, she had the backing of the military, of which she was already the leader.
“We have to expand the kingdom!” was Amina’s declaration when she assumed power. As a military strategist, she knew exactly how to go about her plan. First, she decided to create a formal government that the people of the land and the surrounding kingdoms would recognize. In that regard, she created ministries to propagate her agenda. Also, she set up a tax collection unit. Knowing that the Hausa people loved long-distance trade, the clever queen set aside trade routes and even created a cavalry branch charged with protecting the merchants as they traversed the land, some headed as far as Europe and the Middle East. And of course, that came at a price. The traders would pay taxes as well as fees for the protection offered by the queen’s soldiers.
In the period before Aminatu’s reign, Zazzau’s army used primitive tools such as machetes and spears. But when she came to power, Amina came up with a way to build up her force. She got the talented metal workers in her kingdom to make swords similar to what armies in Europe used. The soldiers were also provided with helmets and maille as a means to protect them during battle and give them an official outlook. It was evident that Amina’s army was superior to what the neighboring kingdoms had.
Taking advantage of the neighbors’ fear of her, as well as her superior military strategies, Amina was able to successfully run raids against her neighbors. Each time she conquered a territory, the queen built a fort in that land to consolidate her authority. Some of the forts that Amina still stand to this day in the northern parts of Nigeria.
With her campaigns, Aminatu succeeded in expanding the Zazzau kingdom. Extending from Zazzau and Niger in the West to Sudan forests towards the east, all the lands were under her rule. Kwararafa and Nupe were some of the states that the cavalry warrior queen subdued and absorbed. Legend has it that the entire region called Hausaland was under Aminatu’s regime. According to the Kano Chronicle, one of the popular historical accounts of the Hausa people, every town in the north and middle belt of Nigeria, extending almost to Sudan, paid her homage.
Amina’s reign lasted 34 years. She died an old woman of 70 years, leaving behind a huge, prosperous kingdom for her people to enjoy. The fierce warrior queen will always be remembered as a brave and determined African woman. Dubbed Moniker Amina, the woman as capable as a man, Aminatu is a perfect depiction of the strong spirit of the black woman.