Much has been recognized, recorded, and submitted about the person of Queen Amina of Zazzau – the powerful 16th Century Nigerian female warrior whose ability to expand her territorial frontiers still evoke awe in  the conscious memory of those who concern themselves with her legacy as well they should. Only in leaning on, and learning from the values of the past can the present augment the structure of its own foundation successfully.  Through the didactic dispensation of mythology and folklore, our understanding of life in a current reality predictably stems from what culture and tradition combined teach us and dispense to aid our understanding of the world of which we are a part. As is typical of most patrilineal societies, the phallocentric nuances, which typically become more of the xenophobic and chauvinistic, are often exemplified in the marginalization, vilification and subjugation of women; women thus become the subaltern in their own environment. No logical reason for this exists; however, the contention for that assertion remains beside the object of this write-up.   The main thrust of this very brief literary exploration focuses on Wale Ogunyemi’s 1999 dramatic work, Queen Amina of Zazzau.  Through the play, which has its setting in the Hausa culture, Queen Amina stands eminent as a ruler, a warrior and above all, a woman whose love of nation and social justice enable her to blur the line of gender demarcation and promote that of complementarity—an underlying principle of the Womanist orientation.  Women, as a matter of course, should look into their cultural environment for tools and prompts of female emancipation, which in turn may then promote social justice in their environment and nation at large; Queen Amina’s story offers an expedient backdrop to this submission.

Asiri Issue 7

It augurs well for us to recognize the underscoring principle of Womanism as a concept to make sense of it as an interrogating tool for Ogunyemi’s work, else we stand subject to losing our bearing.  Womanism, (which is quite distinct from Feminism) in very brief terms is that concept which seeks to promote social justice, commonweal and healing attributes in the society and the larger context of the nation.  The orientation stresses complementarity between the genders and does not recognize a privilege of the male over the female: only in working together can both genders create harmony and justice in the society.  With this brief background to Womanism, I tease apart, briefly, Ogunyemi’s play to highlight those Womanist tendencies that Amina’s historic and social stature cut, and from which women –and men—may borrow a necessary consideration.  Who can be a Womanist, by the way?  Any one who puts the common weal of his or her society first and promotes the a fore-mentioned attributes which are inclusive of enthroning the principle of complementarity between the sexes– as opposed to concentrating on their (dis) similarities– qualifies as a Womanist; such qualities, social truths be recognized, are typically more often exemplified by women than men.

And now to Ogunyemi’s Queen Amina of Zazzau:

Ogunyemi’s introduction of the heroine, Amina, immediately invites his audience’s attention: in the preface to his work, the playwright announces Amina as a woman “with alluring eyes.”  Thereafter, the playwright permits Amina’s character and activities to speak for her personality in the Hausa society and her value in Nigerian history.  This physical description, short as it were, permits the audience to progressively model and flesh out a body for those “alluring eyes,” which stared at the playwright  from a wall calendar and prompted the initiation of  the play, Amina. Progressively, through the changing scenes (Situations they are called in this play) Ogunyemi lends credence to the accolade he ascribes to Amina, who is,  “Yar, Bakwa ta sa rana /Amina …a woman as capable as a man” (vi).  Women can look to this historical figure and recognize that only in complementing the physical  (no matter what that connotation is) with their social activity in the home and community can they begin to work productively in nurturing, healing, and promoting community and social harmony; only then should they begin to advocate for social justice and equity.

In Nigeria, as in most societies and countries, a high premium is placed on motherhood — a laudable attribute that most women strive for; however, childlessness is by no means a limiting factor for altruism, productive community activity, and the quest for social equity. The inability to biologically bear children stands distinct from the inner worth of a woman and her potential of being a fully responsible and functional individual in her household and the society at large. (In any case, tending to children—biological or otherwise as in the case of adoption – could be chalked to the institution of motherhood, and different cultures attest to this in their recognized social setup). Looking into this play, Amina, in its historical adaptation, many factors– as determined by the men in her society– count for Amina’s shortcomings.  To begin with, there is the reason of her bearing no biological child.  There is also the reason of her being unmarried. Her mother—an example of one who is resigned to the subjugating fetters of the phallocentric world that frames her reality confesses to the male chiefs that, “I too have had sleepless nights worrying over her incompleteness” (Situation Two 9).  As though to confirm the encompassing chauvinistic clasp in this setting, Amina’s warlord, Waziri, expresses to her that,

We exist for you, great Queen. But you too need to settle down. Take a husband and have children to sustain your lineage. You cannot remain a spinster for life.” (Situation Five 35).

Needless to say, it is not difficult to imagine that Queen Amina would not be the subject of historical discussion as she stands now, had she subscribed to these limiting xenophobic  tendencies which otherwise would deter her social intent.

For Womanists, the institution of marriage should be honored and the values of home and hearth protected; however, these institution  of wedlock and that of motherhood must not be the prerequisites that define a woman.  Certainly,  women  who want a home, children and the worthy sense of fulfillment that goes with these  human needs must never be deterred or discouraged; however, for those who, like Amina, opt otherwise, and for those who do not have a say- for biological reasons for instance–  in what choices they can make, they must not be vilified or marginalized on occasion of these constraints.  Women must recognize and accept their individuality and potential  attributes and not necessarily adopt the dictates of a prejudiced, phallocentric or compelling society.  In recognizing the male-centric atmosphere in which Amina resides, the audience immediately senses the personal battle zone upon which she operates even as early as her birth and till the end of her days. The Chiefs hold court and state that “our hearts bleed,” while Gladimar confesses  to the reason that, ‘[Your mother] wanted a son, but you came as a woman– an only child. … this place is devoid of the warmth a young lady of your status should have [and] …we will be happier if you have a man to love and respect. (Situation 2.8). Such utterances and Amina’s  disregard for them are instances women should draw from in untying themselves from social peculiarities, which tax their personal predilections or desires.   Amina’s gender, which the chiefs, in subtle terms, cast aspersion on, “  [Your mother] wanted a son, but you came as a woman- an only child,” and Amina’s heroic qualities, culled from cultural history in this play,  are examples of socio-  ethnic  dialogue and considerations  that women may learn from as they seek to promote gender equality in the society. Amina’s  retort to the chief’s  statement is instructive in the discussion: “Not that I abhor family life, but is it compulsory?” she wonders (Situation 1 8). Every young adult woman would do well  to contemplate that question and make her answer personal to her self-worth and fulfillment; cultural history backs her because therein, many prominent mothers and wives exist who further the cause of their societies as are those, like  Queen Amina, who choose to be neither a biological mother nor a spouse. In her words, “ A woman should not be the pawn in the hands of any man…. A woman should be left to choose a path best suited to her existence and for her.” That statement, from Queen Amina, taken in its full connotation incentives individual thought and deters an unnecessary subscription to social dictate.   The underscoring principle here is that women must follow their passion but not at the compromise of other instances to which they are pledged: Queen Amina chose not to be a spouse or a biological mother because it would constrain her passion of leading her people as a warrior. This point is worth a serious contemplation. Women may follow whatever noble path their life dictates—marriage, motherhood, leadership, spirituality, social service; however, whatever that decision, their commitment to it must be grounded in the loyalty to their cause.

Credits::Article by Dr. Tolulope O. Idowu .Indiana, USA for ASIRI.

Work Cited: Ogunyemi, Wale.   Queen Amina of Zazzau, Ibadan: University Press PLC.1999. Print.