Netflix and ahistorical film-making, By Ibrahim Lawal Ahmed

Netflix and ahistorical film-making, By Ibrahim Lawal Ahmed

…it is commendable to make a film based on an historical account and which is inspired by legendary figures, however filmmakers need to know that such films shouldn’t be contrived along Shakespearean lines. They need to do their homework to get the authentic account of the story they are re-narrating… the blunders of the Netflix film, Amina, should urge us to take the study of history more seriously and utilise the knowledge of archeology…

Like other thousands of audiences around the world, I spent one hour forty minutes watching the much-anticipated Netflix film, Amina. Like a similar Kannywood film with the same title, the Netflix film tells the story of the legendary Queen Amina of Zazzau who reigned in the 16th century. As a piece of theatrical play, the film is not bad. The actors acted well, particularly Magaji Mijinyawa who acted as the Madakin Zazzau, a powerful title in the Zazzau emirate. However, the storyline is just terrible. It is fallacious, misleading and a mis-depiction of African culture and heritage. I can point to many errors in each scene of the film, yet I will not exhaust the errors in the film.

The film depicts complete historical ignorance on the part of the filmmakers, which shows that they were so lazy and unprofessional in doing their homework of digging deep into history to find out who Queen Amina of Zazzau really was and also what the culture of Zazzagawa was at in that century. And no scene perfectly shows this ignorance than the first scene of the film, which even more so relates ignorance of the African culture. The filmmakers were obviously influenced by Shakespearean writings and films on the Roman Empire, whose Hollywood depictions they watched. The ruthless gladiator competition, shown in the first scene, is completely not in accordance with Hausa and African culture. It is a pastime sport in ancient Rome. What may surprise the filmmakers is that as at late 19th century, some historians recorded that some free born in Zaria were willingly submitting themselves as slaves, out of the hope of getting some of the priviledges enjoyed by slaves in Zaria.

Films like Amina, in this post-truth era, will go on to become the accepted narration of history about Queen Amina, particularly by the millennials whose curiosity does not include historical knowledge. This brings to the fore the importance of countering this sort of narration with a more authentic one. In the subsequent paragraphs, I aim to give a sketchy story about Queen Amina and a history of Zaria city, capital of the Zazzau emirate.

If the filmmakers had bothered to go through the chronicle of the 60 emirs of Zazzau before the Fulani Jihad, up to Gunguma, the grandson of Bayajidda, they will definitely be amazed not to find the name of Amina in this narration. This is because according to the chronicle of Zazzau Emirs, Amina was never a ruler of Zazzau, rather she was ‘Sarauniya.’ Sarauniya may be interpreted in English as ‘princess’ or ‘queen.’ In all fairness, I think the history of Zazzau was highly influenced by the patriarchal nature of Islam brought by the revivalism led by Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, thereby attempting to deny the existence of Amina, just like the way powerful titles given to women such as Sarauniya, Magajiya and Iya were either abolished or given to men instead. Nevertheless, it is accepted by historians that Amina was not a Queen who ruled Zazzau but rather the Sarauniya (princess) that protected and expanded Zazzau. Some of these historians go on to credit her for making Zazzau the first Hausa Empire.

Amina, as Sarauniya, was charged with the defence and expansion of the kingdom. She was very brave and adventurous, and was able to stop the seemingly unstoppable forces of Mai Idris Aloma of Borno Empire. He was so impressed with her battle skills that he sought her hand in marriage, which she declined. He subsequently sent gifts to her annually.

Amina was the daughter of Bakwa Turunku. Turunku is a town 33 kilometres south of Zaria. She had a younger sister named Zaria. The Zazzau people were initially at the present day Kufena area. Sarkin Kano Kanajeji, however, attacked and defeated Zazzau, killing the king and ransacking the town. Zazzau people therefore retreated to Turunku kingdom. In later years, during the Bakwa Turunku, the population of Turunku grew exponentially and water became very scarce in there due to it rocky landscape. The search for a new capital became imminent. A hunter named Bono was said to be the first to suggest the present plains of Zaria to Princess Zaria, who convinced her father and personally led the building of the new capital of Zazzau. A stream inside Zaria is named after Bono, Fadamar Bono, and where Zaria stays during the building of city is named Anguwan Zaria, while the city itself is named after her. The initial Zaria wall, which Amina contributed in designing, subsumed the Kufena hill into the town. It was the first wall of Zaria and it is called ‘ganuwar Amina.’

Amina, as Sarauniya, was charged with the defence and expansion of the kingdom. She was very brave and adventurous, and was able to stop the seemingly unstoppable forces of Mai Idris Aloma of Borno Empire. He was so impressed with her battle skills that he sought her hand in marriage, which she declined. He subsequently sent gifts to her annually. Calipha Muhammadu Bello, in his book, Infaq Al Maisur, tells us the chivalry of Amina and the extent to which she expanded Zazzau, thus:

…the first to whom power was given in this land (Hausa land) according to what we have been told was Aminatu, the daughter of Sarkin Zak-Zak (Zazzau). She made war upon countries and overcame them entirely so that the people of Katsina paid tribute to her and the men in Kano. She made war in the cities of Bauchi that her Kingdom reached to the sea in the south and west.

Similarly, in the Kano Chronicle, Amina was said to have:

…conquered all the towns as far as Kwararrafa (part of present day Adamawa and Taraba States) and Nupe (part of Niger State)… every town paid tribute to her. The Sarkin Nupe sent forty Eunuchs and ten thousands kola to her. She is the first to have Eunuchs in Hausa land. In her time, the whole of the product of the west were brought to Hausa land.

The jihadists, on the contrary, following the patriarchal teachings of Islam, deprived women of those powerful titles and gave them to men, thereby restricting women from being active political players. Nevertheless, certain matriarchs in the Sokoto caliphate, such as Nana Asma’u and Maryam, daughters of Dan Fodio, were politically powerful and individuals lobbied them to get privileges from the Caliph.

From the quotations above, it is obvious that Amina conquered all the Hausa States and Zazzau received tributes from all the Hausa and non-Hausa States. Amina established a fortress in any town she conquered, to secure the town and prevent rebellion. Her death was quite mysterious. As the quotation by Calipha Bello made an allusion to the sea, Amina was said to have died while trying to cross the sea with her soldiers. Modern historians link references to the sea by the then Hausa people to River Benue and Niger. Hence, Amina was hypothetically believed to have died in a ship accident while crossing River Benue. Similarly, Zaria was believed to have died in the present day Niger State, while on a mission to find out what happened to her sister, Amina. Amina is said to have never sat on the stool of the King of Zazzau. And with the death of her father, Bakwa Turunku, King Ibrahim took over control of Zazzau.

What is very pertinent to know is that, contrary to the popular opinion, Hausa culture, in particular, and African culture, in general, was matriarchal. Many women ruled Hausa states, such as Queen Daurama of Daura, but their feats were buried in the narrations told by men. What is even more interesting is that inheritance to the throne, in Africa, was highly matriarchal. The nephews of the king, not the princes, were the heirs to the throne in many cases. Bakwa Turunku, the father of Amina, inherited the throne from his maternal uncle, King Kawanissa. A study of the Songhay and Mali empires would reveal to a knowledge seeker more about this matriarchal system of leadership in Africa. Moreover, the most powerful title holders in Hausa culture were the women. These titles, as stated above,have  included, the Magajiya, Sarauniya and Iya. The Iya of Zazzau during Sarki Makau, the last Habe ruler of Zazzau, was the one who convinced and pressurised the king not to comply with the preaching of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, threatening that he would be deposed if he complied, the way his father, Sarki Jatau, did. Eventually, he was defeated and lost his kingdom to the jihadists.

The jihadists, on the contrary, following the patriarchal teachings of Islam, deprived women of those powerful titles and gave them to men, thereby restricting women from being active political players. Nevertheless, certain matriarchs in the Sokoto caliphate, such as Nana Asma’u and Maryam, daughters of Dan Fodio, were politically powerful and individuals lobbied them to get privileges from the Caliph.

On a final note, it is commendable to make a film based on an historical account and which is inspired by legendary figures, however filmmakers need to know that such films shouldn’t be contrived along Shakespearean lines. They need to do their homework to get the authentic account of the story they are re-narrating. Moreover, filmmakers have to be careful and ensure that the setting, scenes and actions of their films reflect the traditional African culture at the given historical time of the account being filmed. And what is even more important is that the blunders of the Netflix film, Amina, should urge us to take the study of history more seriously and utilise the knowledge of archeology to dig deep and unearth the mysteries surrounding some of the legendary personas in our folklores.

Ibrahim Lawal Ahmed wrote from Abuja.

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