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Reviewed by:
  • Amina
  • Michael Janis
Mohammed Umar , Amina. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press (pb. $19.95 – 978 15922 1404 4). 2005, 243 pp.

Queen Amina of Zazzau, today Zaria, was a warrior queen who governed the Hausa in the sixteenth century. Mohammed Umar's contemporary Amina, called Queen Amina by her sisters-in-arms, is also among the elite in northern Nigeria, but she must rebel against the corruption of her class and against the oppression of her gender. It is above all the Marxist paradigms of social and class struggle that shape the form of Umar's narrative, resulting in a political blueprint for Africa from a feminist perspective that envisions a 'better world' (p. 243) at the close of the novel.

Fourth among the wives of Alhadji Haruna, a wealthy and corrupt city councillor and businessman, Amina is initially hesitant to join in the radical politics of the women at the university. Her mentor is the law student Fatimah, an independent woman who stirs up trouble in the town of Bakaro. The keynote speaker for the International Women's Day in Bakaro, she asserts that 'most African traditional cultures are male-dominated, allowing women virtually no control over affairs affecting them. In our part of Nigeria, Islam, which is for the emancipation of women, is interpreted by religious leaders so as to oppress and subjugate women' (p. 84).

Amina allows Fatimah and her colleagues to meet secretly in her house, much to the dismay of Alhadji Haruna, who questions her morals and then comes to suspect her of marital infidelity. A victim of domestic abuse, Amina becomes an example of the victimization of women by the prevalent misinterpretation of the teachings of 'traditional culture' and Islam. After these meetings, and hours spent reading works such as Marx's Capital , Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and Walter Rodney's How the West [End Page 322] Underdeveloped Africa, she takes on the position of head of the Bakaro Women's Association.

The abuse of tradition in the region, inextricably tied to the abuse of women, remains a central theme of the novel. At one of the women's meetings, Hajara gives a speech on 'Culture and Society' in which she laments the passing of a genuine social role for poets and praise singers (griots); instead, what lingers is a 'system of greed and hero-worship' and the misuse of tradition. 'How can our traditional rulers be "custodians of culture"?' she asks. 'What's traditional apart from their imported regalia?' (p. 144). She calls them illiterates who play golf, ride in limousines, tax the poor, and sell off the country's resources to neo-colonial transnational corporations.

As the women take on neo-colonial corruption, they battle on several fronts at once: exploitation of Nigeria by the elite classes and by foreigners, as well as patriarchal control of women. Shortly after taking a traditional title in his village, Alhadji Haruna argues that 'all Nigerians are crooks' (p. 151); thus, he receives counsel on his diverse, largely corrupt business interests from Bature, the local name given to a wealthy European investor, who argues that Europe civilized Africa. Alhadji Haruna sponsors a bill in the House of Representatives that effectively relegates women to the status of supporters of their husbands. Ultimately, through neglect, he is responsible for the death of Amina's baby, but after his second brutal physical attack on her, Amina takes control of her life and the women's movement.

If the symbolic reference to Queen Amina represents the novel's historical antecedent, the contemporary reference to Amina Lawal represents the novel's political impetus. Amina's name evokes the internationally famous case, while in the text fictional reference is made to an identical case of a woman threatened with stoning. 'The rulers say it is Shari'a law. That is not true,' asserts Laila, spokesperson of women protesting the charges. 'We have read the holy books and simply could not find any case where women were treated in such a barbaric way' (p. 201). While the case against Lawal, who was to be stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock when the father...


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