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Hajia Ahmed: Nigeria's only queen in a land of kings

From Christian Purefoy CNN
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Hajia Ahmed of Kunbwada: A queen among kings
  • Queen Hajia Ahmed is the only traditional woman ruler in Northern Nigeria
  • Locals say a curse means any man who tries to be king in Kunbwada will die mysteriously
  • Elders fear Kunbwada's losing its traditions

Kunbwada, Nigeria (CNN) -- In a region ruled by kings, the people in the Nigerian village of Kunbwada are celebrating their Queen.

They say a curse means any man who attempts to be king in this community will die mysteriously.

That makes Queen Hajia Ahmed of Kunbwada the only traditional woman ruler in conservative Northern Nigeria.

Queen Hajia told CNN, "Men cannot rule this kingdom. If a man insists we will let him. And then after two or three days, he will die."

No man has ever tried to usurp the throne, and the young men who remain in the village insist they are loyal subjects.

"Women must be educated.Education means women can be anything they want to be.
--Queen Hajia Ahmed
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  • Africa
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Sunday Shamari, a 25 year-old farmer, told CNN, "People outside always ask about my Queen and I will tell them the whole history. I feel proud."

Nigeria's kingdoms are officially recognized, and their traditional rulers' authority comes from customary law.

Queen Hajia's official functions include settling marriages and land disputes and keeping the peace. But she also wants to introduce some changes of her own.

"Women must be educated," she said. "Education means women can be anything they want to be."

Ivorian artist Paul Sika's glorious Technicolor world

In remote regions of Nigeria, women have few rights and little access to education, so for some women Kunbwada offers hope.

Queen Hajia has tens of thousands of subjects, and has ruled for 12 years after inheriting the throne following her mother's death.

Now she's witnessing changing times. As more young people leave the community and head to the towns in search of work and money, there's a fear these traditions are being lost.

The elders of the community blame foreign influences from the towns for what they see as a growing disrespect of the local culture and beliefs.

Mohammed Sani, who has the honorary title of "Custodian of the Shrine", told CNN, "The West is making our tradition go back. We want our people to be enlightened, but Western values are having a bad effect."

As for modernity, the Queen says it does bring some benefits. "I have seen many changes," she said. "Things have improved, and the new town has helped education and infrastructure."

Mark Tutton contributed to this report