Young Amina sharpened her warrior skills over many years and, when her brother died, rose to become Queen Amina of Zaria, ruling the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. It was the 16th century, and Queen Amina pushed every boundary to expand her control of nearby territories and insure safe trade among her people as well as a flourishing economy. Her 34 year reign was a high moment in this thread of history.
Today, Hausa women of her region continue that thread - coming together to call themselves the Queen Amina Embroiderers and evoking the same fortitude, though a different skill. Their needles, rather than weaponry, expand boundaries and trade routes - now all the way to Ibu.
When I read about this group last summer, I was not only intrigued by their story but wild about their embroidery. I’ve long admired the fancy needlework of that area, known for their fine designs on voluminous men’s robes known as babban riga, below. I mean, look at the WOW! I sought out their leader, Hassana, at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market to ask if she would like to do custom work for Ibu and got a big yes.
When women have no capital to start a business, they can’t afford inventory to sell. But they can createinventory. Embroidery skills are a way through this impasse.
We’ve taken the bold designs and shapes that emblazon a man’s boubou and translated them onto a woman’s caftan in Ali’s periwinkle blue and white. So fresh and beautiful! The choker out of Tanzania and the earrings from South Sudan take this into something glamourous. (more on them soon!)
I love the ease and eloquence of this piece. So does Ali. We call it Hassana’s caftan in honor of our new friend in Nigeria leading other women in a great expansion of their borders. We love working with Hassana. Queen Amina watches over her bold pursuits, I imagine, with great pleasure.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker