A student of mine has embarked on a project to uncover fictional and non-fictional African Heroes. The video below is my contribution to her laudable project. This is followed by summaries of the life stories of my heroes figures.

Queen Amina of Zaria:  She ruled Zaria (Zazzau) from about 1549. She was a warrior Queen heading up an army of 20,000 men. According to the Kano Chronicle, Amina conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years. Amina is also credited as the architect of the strong earthen walls around the city, which became the prototype for the fortifications used in all Hausa states. She built many of these fortifications, later known as ganuwar Amina or ‘Amina’s walls’, around various conquered cities. Many of these walls remain in existence to this day. She is recorded to have died in 1610. There are different accounts of her death. It is suggested by some that Amina committed suicide during a military campaign at Dekina in the present Kogi state and was buried in Idah. Others believe that she died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in present day Niger state. It is believed that the TV series, ‘Xena: Warrior Princess‘ is based on Amina’s life.



Ȩfúnşetán Aníwúrà: Ȩfúnşetán was born around 1790 in Egbaland. She moved to Ibadan, a city that was founded in 1829 as a war camp. Ȩfúnşetán eventually became the Iyalode of Ibadan. She was the first woman to set up a flourishing agrarian economy that employed no fewer than 2000 men and women. Around 1850, worried by increasing conflict in the Yorubaland, she made her workers take up infantry military training. Consequently, she had her own private army. She was said to have had personal military training in urban and guerrilla warfare. Prof Akintoye wrote “It is not unlikely that Ȩfúnşetán was the richest person in the whole of the Yoruba interior in about the late 1870s.” She was definitely rich AND powerful.

1100px-yorubaland_cultural_area_of_west_africa  Map of Yoruba Empire

However, her only daughter died in 1860 during child birth. After this, Ȩfúnşetán became extremely depressed. This has an extremely negative effect on her interpersonal relationships and decisions. She ordered arbitrary executions of her staff and withdrew support for Latoosa, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (the Warlord) of Ibadan. Latoosa responded by calling for her to be killed. She was killed in 1874. It is unclear whether she died by committing suicide when Latoosa’s forces surrounded her house or – according to the Reverend Samuel Johnson – she was killed by assassins hired by Kumuyilo, her adopted son. Ȩfúnşetán is immortalised in film, most especially in a play written by Professor Akinwunmi Isola.



Moremi Ajasoro: Moremi lived in the 12th century. She was from Offa. She married Oranmiyan and reigned as Queen in Ile-Ife. During this time, Ife was persistently raided by their neighbours, (possibly the Igbohos) who had dressed themselves to look like demons. The people of Ife were often taken into captivity. To discover the secret of the raiders, she allowed herself to be captured by them. She lived with them, integrated with them, learnt their secrets and then escaped back to Ile-Ife. Apparently, the raiding neighbours dressed themselves in raffia; this gave them their otherworldly appearance. The solution was to attack them armed with flaming torches, as raffia is highly flammable. This repelled the raiders. Thereafter peace reigned in Ile-Ife. Moremi is revered in Ile-Ife, Offa and most of Yorubaland, there is a massive statue of her in the Ooni’s palace in Ife (said to be the fourth tallest statue in Africa). She has been immortalised in songs and plays, for example Morountodun by Femi Osofisan. Her name adorns many buildings and roads.

tumblr_o4q6nvvnvw1qb232yo1_500 Stephen Hamilton’s artistic visualisation of Moremi

I have always been quite vocal about the fact that our stereotypical view of African women as lacking agency, as lacking personhood is not only false, but exceedingly harmful.

Who are your African heroes?



  • Ajayi, JF Ade, and Michael Crowder. History of West Africa. Vol. 1. Longman Sc & Tech, 1985.
  • Davidson, Basil, and Francis K. Buah. A history of West Africa to the nineteenth century: With FK Buah and the advice of JF Ade Ajayi. Anchor Books, 1966.
  • Fage, John Donnelly. An introduction to the history of West Africa. At the University Press, 1955.
  • Johnson, Samuel. The history of the Yorubas: From the earliest times to the beginning of the British protectorate. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Onwubiko, K. B. C. School Certificate History of West Africa: AD 1000-1800. Book One. Africana-FEP, 1982.

These are some of my African heroes. Who are yours?


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