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Amina Sukhera – A Fierce and Fabulous Leader
Amina Sukhera – A Fierce and Fabulous Leader
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By - Victoria Akindele

Posted - 08-10-2019

The medieval world is many things to most people but regions of the African continent. To them, it is more about nations that sailed and explored beyond their known world. However, regions of the African continent were facing their own territorial hardships and social developments, making great history at that time. One of the women who best symbolizes this period is Amina Sukhera.

Early life
Amina was born around 1533 in the African kingdom of Zazzau (present-day city of Zaria in Kaduna State, Nigeria), bearing a name that meant trustworthy and honest, characteristics that followed her over the course of her life. She was the daughter of King Nikatau, the twenty-second ruler of Zazzau, and Queen Bakwa Turunku (r. 1536 – c. 1566). She had a younger sister named Zaria for whom the modern city of Zaria (Kaduna State) was renamed by the British in the early twentieth century. According to legends collected by anthropologist David E. Jones, Amina grew up in her grandfather’s court as she was his favourite and was treated as one. He took her around court and instructed her carefully in political and military matters.

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Zazzau was one of the original seven Hausa States (Hausa Bakwai), the others being Daura, Kano, Gobir, Katsina, Rano, and Garun Gabas.

From an early age, Amina had a number of suitors attempting to marry her and attempts to gain her hand included “a daily offer of ten slaves” from Makama and “fifty male slaves and fifty female slaves as well as fifty bags of white and blue cloth” from the Emir of Kano.

Sovereignty and Legacy
After her parents died in 1566, Amina’s younger brother, Karama, was crowned king of Zazzau while their sister, Zaria, fled the region and little is known about her. Although her parent’s reign was known for peace and prosperity, Amina chose to hone her military skills from the warriors of the Zazzau military.

When her brother Karama died after a ten-year rule, Amina had fully-fledged into a fierce warrior and had earned the respect of the Zazzau’s military and as a result, she emerged as a leader of the Zazzua kingdom. Many accolades, great wealth, and increased power resulted from her numerous military achievements.

Amina led her first military charge a few months after assuming power and for the rest of her 34-year reign, she continued to fight and expand her kingdom to the greatest in history. She established government among many tribes, being the first ruler to do so. She conquered as far as Nupe and Kwararafa, enforcing tribute taxes and Zarian rule. She established Zazzau as a trade epicenter, and it grew in wealth. Agriculture and education also flourished under her, as she introduced the kola, a type of nut, into farming. She had many architectural projects as well, such as the building of earthed walls also known as “Amina walls” which remain in existence to this day. She initiated so many battles to make neighbouring rulers her leigemen and permit her traders safe passage. In this way, she boosted her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves, and new crops. Since her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armor, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army.

In addition, Amina refused to marry and never bore children. Instead, she took a temporary husband from the legions of defeated foes after every battle. Once the night is over, she would condemn him to death in the morning in order to prevent him from ever speaking about his sexual encounter with the queen.

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Also, legend says her grandmother found her holding a dagger as a child, revealing her strength and ferocity at a young age.

Memorial
In honour of Amina, a statue was erected in front of the National Arts Theatre in Lagos, Nigeria and multiple educational institution buildings bear her name. She is also the protagonist of the historical fantasy novel Queen of Zazzau (2018) by J.S. Emuakpor, based on her life beginning in 1557 CE.

Amina’s story illustrates the struggle for many significant women during this period; not only was it difficult for these women to have their lives recorded, but not living in the center of the western world makes her story less likely to be told. Amina is an exception to the many women whose stories fall through the cracks, and she stands for their successes and hardships when they cannot.

She is still celebrated today in traditional Hausa praise songs as “Amina daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.

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