Queen Turunku Bakwa (?-1566)

Modern Rendering of Queen Turunku Bakwa
Modern Rendering of Queen Turunku Bakwa
Courtesy Alvin L. Pondexter

Scholars have been able to assemble only a meager amount of information about Queen Turunku Bakwa of Zazzau, at that time, the largest and most powerful of the Hausa city-states in what is now Northern Nigeria. It could be because she remained in the shadow of her husband, King Nikatau, the 22nd ruler of Zazzau and the son of King Sarkin Nohir and Marka, or that the conquests of her daughter, Amina, Queen of Zazzau, who led 20,000 camouflage-painted infantry soldiers, 1,000 horse riders, and a female military unit, known as the “akwai dama,” in battle against the city-state’s enemies, overshadowed Queen Turunku Bakwa’s reign as a political leader.

Hausa Kingdoms
Hausa Kingdoms. Photo by Zykasaa. Public Domain Image.

We do not know the actual place or date of birth of Queen Turunku Bakwa. Scholars estimate it to be around 1528. The Queen was a Fulani, one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, which could be found in the following contemporary nations: Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan. That ethnic identification, along with the Fulani embracing Islam, allowed her to have more influence in the region than is usually possible for the ruler of a single Hausa city-state.

Fluent in Hausa, Fulani, and Arabic, the Queen ruled over one of six Hausa city-states. The other five were Katsina, Gobir, Kano, Rano and Biram. The Queen’s three children would eventually rule Zazzau. King Kamara succeeded his mother and ruled the state for a decade from 1566 to 1576. Amina, who succeeded him, had a longer rule from 1576 to 1610. The third child, Zaria, followed Amina as ruler of Zazzau, although the dates of her reign are uncertain. In 1536, Queen Turunku Bakwa renamed the city of her birth, Zaria, in her daughter’s honor. Ironically, Zaria, in what is now North Central Nigeria, became a major Hausa City State that eclipsed Zazzau in power and influence.

The reign of Queen Turunku Bakwa of Zazzau ended with her death in 1566.