The Hausa men of West Africa are proud and independent, yet their most famous ruler and greatest warrior was a woman, Queen Amina.
She is said to have created the only Hausa empire and to have led into battle a fierce army of horsemen. Indeed, so powerful is the memory of her exploits that songs of her deeds are still sung today.
By the end of the eighth century AD Arab explorers were aware of a great civilization to the south of the Sahara. This was ancient Ghana, situated in an area further west than present-day Ghana. The beginning of ancient Ghana's power roughly coincides with the spread of Islam in North Africa. From that time, over the next 1,500 years, the great states of the western Sudan rose, flourished and fell, each passing on to the next the mantle of power, each state centred a little further east--Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kanem Bornu, Sokoto. In the midst of these, the seven states that make up Hausaland came into being around AD 1050. Before the separate Hausa states were established, this area of West Africa was ruled by a dynasty of queens--seventeen in all. Later Islamic scholars, using older Arabic stories mixed with local tales, created a legend to explain the sudden development of the Hausa peoples: Shawata, the last of the seventeen queens, offers marriage to any man who will slay Sarki, a monstrous snake that lives in the well of the town of Daura. Abyazidu (also known as Bayajida), a prince of Baghdad, comes to their son Bawo who is held to be the founding father of the original seven Hausa states: Daura, Kano, Zazzau, Gobir, Katsina, Rano and Garun Gabas. They form an area of some 500 square kilometres, the core of Hausaland.
As the populations of these states increased so they grew wealthy and attracted the attention of other powers. Yet the Hausa are a tough people and the only explanation why for much of their history they were under outside domination must lie in the fact that they were split into these seven separate states. Only two Hausa leaders were conquerors and the first of these was a woman, queen Amina of Zazzau who succeeded in extending the boundaries of Hausaland outside its original core.
LEGEND OR TRUTH?
There are many legends about Amina as she is usually known, through her full name was Aminatu. The tales of her exploits have made her one of the most famous African women, second only to Nzinga of Angola. Because much of the early written material about her is contradictory, some historians cautiously believe that she may be just a legend. However, despite the contradictions, she is mentioned in three of the four main sources for the history of the Hausa. The Abuja Chronicle and Infaku'l Maisuri of Sultan Muhammadu Bello both describe her as a daughter of the ruling house but not as a ruler in her own right and the traditional list of Hausa rulers contained in the Labarun Hausawa da Makwabtansu does not mention her at all. This need not surprise us: Muslim chroniclers often left out women rulers or lessened the significance of their actions. But the Kano Chronicle describes her as a ruler who flourished in the early fifteenth century. The majority voice is that she did exist though exactly when is much harder to decide.
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