We had suspended these national series 19th December, 2017, to attend to other more crucial national matters that continually engage my attention. I have painfully discovered that like many things in Nigeria, we don’t give our history the desired attention, leading to its deletion from our secondary schools’ syllabus.
My teeming readers have continually nudged me to continue this series as they help present-day controllers of our levers of power to learn from history and behave better. So many stories go untold, and some of those told by others are coloured by their own narrations. There are so many Nigerian women heroes, whose giant strides are no longer told or remembered. So, like the National Anthem proclaims, I will not allow the labours of our heroes past go in vain. That is why today, we x-ray the life and times of some iconic Nigerian heroines, like Queen Amina of Zaria and Queen Idia of Benin.
AMINA OF ZARIA
Amina was a Hausa Muslim Warrior Queen of Zazzau (now Zaria), in what is now North West Nigeria. She is the subject of many legends, but is believed by historians to have been a real ruler. There is controversy among scholars as to the date of her reign. Some scholars placed her in the mid-15th century, while others placed her reign in the mid to late 16th century.
Amina was born around 1533 in Zaria, a province of today’s Nigeria. She was the daughter of Bakwa of Turunku. Their family’s wealth was derived from the trade of leather goods, cloth, kola, salt, horses and imported metals.
When Bakwa died in 1566, the crown of Zazzua passed to Amina’s younger brother, Karama. Their sister, Zaria, fled the region and little is known about her.
Although Bakwa’s reign was known for peace and prosperity, Amina chose to hone her military skills from the warriors of the Zazzau military. As a result, she emerged as leader of the Zazzau cavalry. Many accolades, great wealth, and increased power resulted from her numerous military achievements.
AMINA’S LEGENDARY EXPLOITS AND ARRIVAL ON THE NATIONAL SCENE
More recent oral tradition tells a series of lively stories about the Queen, and these have found their way into popular folklore culture. Among them were that Amina was a fierce warrior who loved fighting. As a child, her grandmother, Marka, the favorite wife of her grandfather, Sarkin Nohir, once caught her holding a dagger. Amina holding the dagger did not shock Marka. Rather, it was said that Amina held it exactly as a warrior would. As an adult, she refused to marry for fear of losing power. She helped Zazzau (Zaria) become the centre of trade and also gain more land. Her mother, Bakwa, died when Amina was 36 years old, leaving her to rule over Zaria. When her brother, Karama died after a ten-year rule, Amina had matured into a fierce warrior and had earned the respect of the Zazzau military. She thus assumed the reign of the kingdom.
Amina led her first military charge a few months after assuming power. For the rest of her 34-year reign, she continued to fight and expand her kingdom towards being one of the greatest in history. The objective for initiating so many battles was to make neighboring rulers become her vassal and permit her traders safe passage.
In this way, she boosted her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves, and new crops. Because her people were talented metal workers, Amina introduced metal armor, including iron helmets and chain mail, to her army.
To her credit, she fortified each of her military camps with an earthen wall. Later, towns and villages sprung up within these protective barriers. The walls became known as “Amina’s Walls” and many of them remain in existence to this day.
According to history, Amina refused to marry and never bore children. Instead, she took a temporary husband from the legions of vanquished foes after every battle. After spending one night together, she would condemn him to death in the morning, just to prevent him from ever speaking about his sexual encounter with the revered queen.
EXIT OF A LEGEND
Records also decreed that she died during a military campaign at Atagara, near Bida, in the present Niger state of Nigeria. Her exploits earned her the moniker, “Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.” Her legendary exploits made her the model for the television series, “Xena Warrior Princess”. Today, her memory represents the spirit and strength of womanhood. (Concluded).
QUEEN IDIA OF BENIN: A WORLD RENOWNED WARRIOR, SKILLED ADMINISTRATOR, MYSTICAL WOMAN AND THE FIRST QUEEN OF ANCIENT BENIN KINGDOM IN NIGERIA
Iyoba Idia popularly known as “Idia ne Iye Esigie”, was a renowned warrior-Queen, skilled Administrator and the first Iyoba (Queen Mother) of the Kingdom of Benin, capital of the present Edo State in Nigeria. Iyoba Idia’s visage is the most widely known face of an African royal woman after the Egyptian Queen, Ahmose-Nefertari or Nefertiti. Her face has gazed on us from countless museum pedestals the world over. It has been widely reproduced on commemorative trays, cups and plates, jewelry, ebony and brass plaques, and on textiles, specifically, george materials of the Intorica and Indian Madras labels, wax design cotton prints, and tee-shirts. Idia was first an Olori (royal wife) of Oba Ozolua, a military strategist cum mystical warrior, before becoming an Iyoba, as well as the mother of Oba Esigie (1504-1550 CE), who was the first King of Benin to ascend the throne with the title Esigie in about 1504 and was the first leader in the West-African Sub-Region to establish diplomatic relationship with a European country.
IDIA’S LEGENDARY VICTORIES AND EXPLOITS
The kingdom of Benin (in present-day Nigeria) was plunged into a state of turmoil at the end of the fifteenth century, when Oba Ozolua died and left two powerful sons to dispute succession. His son, Esigie, controlled Benin City, while another son, Arhuaran, was based in the equally important city of Udo, about twenty miles away. The ensuing civil war severely compromised Benin’s status as a regional power and undermined Benin City’s place as the political and cultural centre of the kingdom. Exploiting this weakness, the neighbouring Igala people sent warriors across the Benue River to wrest control of Benin’s northern territories. Esigie ultimately defeated his brother and conquered the Igalas, thus reestablishing the unity and military strength of the kingdom. His mother Idia received much of the credit for these victories as her political counsel, together with her mystical powers and medicinal knowledge, were believed to be critical elements of Esigie’s success on the battlefield. To reward and honour her, Esigie created a new position within the court called the “Iyoba”, or “Queen Mother,” which gave her significant political privileges, including a separate residence, with her own staff.
NOW THIS QUEEN IDIA: THE FACE OF FESTAC 77
Idia’s face was immortalized in the sixteenth century ivory mask presently tucked away in the British Museum. It became famous when the Nigerian military government chose it as the emblem for the Second Black Festival of Arts and Culture, known as FESTAC ‘77, which Nigeria hosted in 1977. The visibility of the mask increased when the British government’s Museum refused to release it on loan to Nigeria, even after demanding two million pounds, which the Nigerian government put up. The late Oba Akenzua II, then reigning Oba of Benin, broke the impasse by commissioning the Igbesamwan (ivory carvers guild), to produce two replicas of the Idia mask that had been looted by British soldiers during the 1897 punitive expedition. The fine workmanship of the replicas established that modern Benin ivory carvers are consummate artists, as were their forebears, and like the latter, responded with pride and reverence to the royal commission. The replicas were carved and Festac 77 successfully hosted the entire African continent. (To be continued).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.” (Marge Piercy).
Hope Nigerians are reading, digesting and awaiting the next explosive discourse of Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb, PH.D, LL.D.
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