You’ve heard a lot about Nigerian kings. If it’s not how much money they have, it’s how they are meddling in politics or taking the umpteenth wife. What you don’t hear about are the women who have been impactful from their positions as traditional rulers. In fact, you don’t watch, read or hear about traditional rulers who are women.
But we want you to know about these women because they stand as inspiration for what is possible. Check out these 4 iconic female traditional rulers from way back in the day:
- Queen Amina Bakwa: Following the death of her father and her brother, Karama, became king, Amina chose to hone her talents in the Zazzau (today’s Zaria) military, eventually becoming leader of the cavalry. She became Queen and paramount ruler of the kingdom after the death of her brother, launching her first military campaign only months into her reign. She went on to expand the borders of the kingdom through various military campaigns. This way, she was able to boost her kingdom’s wealth and power with gold, slaves, and new crops. She also introduced metal armor and chain into her army, making them even better warriors. Amina also fortified all of her military camps with walls and those camps later became settlements. She is the inspiration for the game and movie franchise, Xena the Warrior Princess.
- Princess Nana Asmau: As the daughter of Uthman Dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Nana was reverred as an advocate for the education of Muslim women. She published her first poem “The way of the Pious” in 1820, before following it with 60 other poems, all of which are still being studied in higher education institutions today. She placed a strong emphasis on women leaders and rights of women within the community ideals of the Sunnah and Islamic law. Based on her experience during the Fulani War, Nana wrote Wakar Gewaye (The Journey) and left behind a large body of poetry and historical narratives that later served as the tools for teaching the foundational principles of the Caliphate.
- Orompoto: Sister of her predecessor, Eguguojo, Orompoto was the first woman to become “king” of the Oyo in the imperial era, and the first woman since the pre-imperial ruler Yeyeori. She ascended the throne because there were no male successors in her family at the time of her brother’s death. A skilled warrior on horseback, she drove out the Nupe from Oyo in 1555 and she is said to have used horses extensively in battle, something that was more common to the Northern tribes.
- Queen Moremi: Mọ́remí Àjàsorò was a member-by-marriage of the royal family of Oduduwa,the King of Ife and Founding Father of the Yoruba tribe. She lived in the 12th century and was married to Oranmiyan, Oduduwa’s son. She is said to have been taken as a slave by the Ìgbò (not the tribe from Eastern Nigeria) and, due to her beauty, married their ruler as his queen. After getting all the intel of her new husband’s army, she escaped to Ile-Ife and revealed this to the Yorubas who were able to subsequently defeat them [the Ìgbòs] in battle. The Edi Festival is said to have then been started as a means of celebrating the sacrifice the princess made for the people of Yorubaland in those days. Female residence halls at the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, are named after her. Oba Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile Ife, Osun State, erected a statue in Moremi’s honor in his palace and that statue is the tallest in Nigeria, according to Wikipedia.
These women bucked the trend of their time and took womankind to new heights through their exploits, bravery and ingenuity. We celebrate these icons and look to their achievements for doing the critical work of gender equality today!