KUMBWADA, Nigeria, 9 October 2007 — In six generations no man has ever spent more than a week as ruler of Kumbwada, a kingdom in Muslim northern Nigeria. All have died mysteriously just after ascending to the throne.
The father of Hadiza Ahmed, the current female monarch, was no exception.
“My father decided to see if he could break the spell but he failed. In his first week on the throne he became so sick that he had to abdicate and was rushed out of the village. He died three weeks later,” recounted Hadiza.
That was nine years ago and Hadiza, 55, has ruled this community of half a million people ever since, despite being part of a culture where leaders are normally men.
According to Hadiza, the curse of Kumbwada kingdom started over two centuries ago when the warrior Princess Magajiya Maimuna led her cavalry from Zaria, a town to the north and conquered the kingdom.
“After the conquest Maimuna decided to leave her brother here as ruler but he fell sick and died within a week. The same thing happened with her second brother and in the end she decided to stay herself and she ruled for 83 years,” Hadiza said, adjusting the white veil covering her head and shoulders.
Despite the widely-held view in the conservative Muslim north that it is an abomination for a woman to lead traditional and religious institutions, Hadiza looks very much in charge of her domain.
“I don’t face any resistance from my subjects, they obey my commands because I’m a fair ruler who ensures justice in my kingdom,” she said as the muezzin cried out an invitation to noon prayers.
A handful of her male subjects led by the village’s imam Musa Muhammad, who have come to pay homage, listen and nod submissively, clustered around the blue silk-upholstered chair that serves as Hadiza’s throne.
The monarch is flanked by her eldest son Danjuma Salihu and her eldest daughter and heir apparent, Idris who sports a purple muslin veil.
Danjuma, Hadiza’s eldest child does not seem to bear any grudge against his younger half-sister Idris, the declared heir to the throne.
“I know and everybody here knows that no man can rule this kingdom and survive. It is not in my own interest to be heir apparent,” Salihu said.
Local people say the curse is linked to a large rock, visible from the village. No one goes there to find out more however as the few who did never returned.
Married to a local businessman, Hadiza is the only female chief that bore children, thanks to her three marriages before assuming the throne, which produced five children, three of them girls.
The people of the village believe that any woman who assumes the throne becomes barren.
“I’m the chief here but I discharge my domestic duties as a wife and mother. However my husband knows his limits, royalty is royalty,” Hadiza said with a dignified smile.
Four hundred kilometers away in Kano, northern Nigeria’s commercial hub and a flashpoint for sectarian and political strife, Muslim leaders frown at the idea of a woman leading a community.
“The fact that any man who assumes the throne dies in a week strongly suggests the use of black magic which Islam absolutely condemns,” Aminuddeen Abubakar, a prominent cleric said.
“Once there is evidence of magic in any situation Islam considers it a deviation which must be reversed,” he said.