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Boko Haram huntress

Aisha Bakari Gombi has reached real-life superhero status for her battlefield bravery in her fight against Boko Haram.

Hunter and university graduate Bamanga, right, shows Aisha how to use her new smartphone. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Since the dawn of humanity, hunters have roamed the forests and savannahs of Africa. Fast forward to the 21st century, and there is no big game left in northeastern Nigeria. Artillery fire exchanged between Boko Haram fighters and the Nigerian military has scared the animals away.

Now, hunters track and capture rebel fighters. Feared for their superior tracking skills and their belief in the supernatural, they help the military hunt down Boko Haram.

With little or no money from the authorities, hunters rely on locally made weapons to fight a heavily armed enemy.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden", has waged a 10-year armed campaign to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria.

The group has killed tens of thousands, displaced 2.3 million from their homes, and is ranked among the world's deadliest armed groups.

Chief among the hunters is Aisha Bakari Gombi. She is the "Queen Hunter", a title given to her for bravery on the battlefield. Aisha and her band of hunters defend their communities.

Boko Haram's camps are in the forests and mountains where Aisha went hunting with her father as a child.

She knows the Sambisa Forest like the back of her hand. It is a sacred place for hunters, so liberating it from Boko Haram fighters carries a special significance.

The hunters have liberated hundreds of people held captive by Boko Haram. Rescuing children is what motivates Aisha. In 2017, she became pregnant for the first time, aged 39. Until then Aisha had thought she was unable to conceive, and every child she helped liberate felt like a surrogate rebirth.

When Aisha is not fighting Boko Haram, she conforms to the norms of the village where she lives with her husband. Northern Nigeria is a place where a woman's domain is mainly confined to the home and raising children.

Aisha's extraordinary life in recent years has taken her to places where only the bravest of men and women would dare go. Her story has become folklore in northern Nigeria, where the "Queen Hunter" features in real-life superhero stories.

Aisha and hunters under her command take a break from tracking Boko Haram deep inside Sambisa Forest. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Aisha was single for many years until her fight against Boko Haram captured the heart of her now husband, Muhammadu. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Aisha grew up hunting antelopes and water buffalo with her father. Now, she hunts Boko Haram fighters. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Hunters know Sambisa Forest better than anyone, so the military uses them to track down fighters who hide there. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Khalid, standing in the background, is the hunter Aisha trusts the most. He is always by her side when they go on missions. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Even when Aisha is not out hunting, she worries about the women and children that have been kidnapped by the group. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Hunters mainly use locally made weapons in their fight against Boko Haram. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Aisha learned about medicinal plants from her father. Her expertise as a medicine woman has earned her the respect of her fellow hunters. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Motorcycles are the easiest way to move around in Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram have hideouts. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Bukar Jimeta was Aisha’s commander. A hugely respected hunter, he helped authorities track criminals and fighters in Sambisa Forest for three decades until he was ambushed and killed by Boko Haram in July 2017. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Bukar Jimeta was a devout Muslim, and he believed in the African gods of nature and of war. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera

Aisha continued to hunt even while she was pregnant. Her story has become folklore in northern Nigeria. The 'Queen Hunter' is a real-life superhero for Nigerians. Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera


(c) 2018 Al Jazeera

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