Nigeria Who was...?

Who were….all these women?

If there’s one thing that came out from reading about Nana Asma’u, it’s more women who we will probably never know more about outside a few sentences in diverse literature. Let’s share this frustration together.

Nana Asma’u wrote in 1837 of

“Joda Kawuuri, Quranic scholar who benefited people in many towns…Yar Hindu the Quaranic scholar who settled disputes…Amina Lubel who was acutely intelligent…Aisha saintly and pious…Habiba the teacher of women and a woman of great presence…and many others who had memorised the Quran and were of great piety, who preached the beneficial Faith and received great blessings.”

These were her contemporaries, her friends, will we ever know more about them outside this? Maybe, maybe not.

There was Maitakalmi, the mother of Gobir Chief Yunfa, who became a captive of dan Fodio’s army in 1808. Or Yunfa’s wife Katambale who is said to have bowed to her fate as a captive with the words “if there is no milk, I shall have to drink water”. What was it like for these women going from royalty to captive?

Then the Inna, mentioned in last week’s post. The Inna, also known as the Iya, was the King’s sister or daughter and performed administrative roles. In many ways, she was the woman equivalent to the Chief. She wore elaborate robes associated with men, tied to her body with a cummerbund. The Inna of Gobir during the time of dan Fodio’s jihad likely died fighting. There is a tradition of badass Inna. Inna Yarbukuma, the sole regent at Sabon Birni who apparently had straw mats spread on the ground before her when she walked down the streets so her boots would not get dirty.

And here’s another story related to Yarbukuma, when another ruler made fun of her authority and called her people “weak”, she launched an attack on him. Of course, Yarbukuma won and not only had this ruler captured but made him submit his sword to her. That sword is still kept by Yarbukuma’s descendants. Can we know more about Yarbukuma?

Continuing on women who had leading political roles in the “Western Sudan” region, there was the Maigira of Biu who like the Inna dressed in men’s clothes on ceremonial occassions. The Maigira however, was expected to remain sexually chaste. What stories are there to be heard about the women who became Maigira?

Then while reading Hugh Clapperton’s “Into the Interior of Africa”, I happened across a murder that took place in Kano. A merchant, probably from Libya, was strangled in his bed in the morning and his slaves were suspected. Apparently, the women had been involved in two or three similar cases before. The governor of Kano met with a “chief of Arabs” and also with Clapperton to decide on a suitable punishment.

But what I’m interested in is the unnamed slaves, what was their story? How did they get away with murder previously? We’ll probably never know…but between this murder in Kano and the murder Alaba Ida solved, I think there is some inspiration for historical murder mysteries set in West Africa.