The northern Nigerian kingdom of Kumbwada has been ruled by women for centuries: according to legend, any man who assumes the throne dies. The problem?
In Nigeria's conservative Islamic north, women are barred from ruling, except in the kingdom of Kumbwada. Here, an ancient curse keeps males off the throne, according to locals. Male pretenders who dare to try will be buried within a week.
The current reigning monarch of the modest kingdom is Queen Hajiya Haidzatu Ahmed, part of a dynasty that's ruled for centuries. Says the queen, who arbitrates disputes, has a zero-tolerance approach to wife-beating and sees that women get a fair hearing in a part of the country that's not often kind to them, "It's a women's affair...Women are the rulers and they rule as effectively as men, sometimes even better than men." She adds,
"When domestic issues come to me, the way I treat them will be quite different to other traditional chiefs. I'm a woman and I'm a mother and I have so much concern and experience when it comes to the issue of marriage and what it means for the maintenance of the home and what it means for two people to live together.
The legend of the curse on male rulers, however, has led some Islamic clerics from neighboring regions to suggest that witchcraft is at work.
Robyn Dixon's fascinating piece is, in fact, the only account on the Internet: the region is so small, and the country so large, that Kumbwada doesn't even appear on most maps, and certainly not in Wikipedia entries. Which is both a very nifty accomplishment for the author and somewhat frustrating: it's heartening to hear about such a story in a region that gets far more press for subjugation of women. In addition, the Queen is an impressive figure who says,
My only handicap is that I don't have a Western education, because in my time, people didn't educate their daughters. I'm not educated in the modern way, but in the traditional way, I have wisdom in my dealings with people. I'm proud to say that it would be hard to find someone educated who could rule as well as I can.
This is a story that should be told.