Queen Nzinga (1583-1663) was a 17th-century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundupeople in what is known as Angola today. Nzinga was born into the royal family of Ndongo in central West around 1583. She was the daughter of King Kiluanji of Ndongo, and her mother was one of her father’s slave wives. Nzinga had two sisters: Mukumbu, or Lady Barbara and Kifunji, or Lady Grace.She also had a brother, Mbandi Kiluanji, who took over the throne after their father died.
According to legend, she was named Njinga because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbunduverb kujinga means to twist or turn). It is said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would grow to become a powerful and proud person.According to her recollections later in life, she was greatly favoured by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war. She attended strategic war meetings and other governance affairs with her father. She was trained as a warrior to fight alongside her father and was taught to read and write in Portuguese by visiting Portuguese missionaries. When she was baptised as a Christian, she was given the name Dona Anna de Souza/ Ana de Sousa, which was adopted from the Portuguese woman who was named her Godmother for the ceremony. She helped influence who Nzinga was in the future.
Ngola (ruler) Mbandi, Nzinga’s brother, felt paranoid that one day Nzinga’s only son (a baby) would plot to have him assassinated. So instead, he ordered her son killed. He then forcibly had Nzinga sterilized, which ensured that she would never have a child again. Perhaps fearing for her life, Nzinga fled to Matamba, where she stayed until her brother asked for her to return to be his ambassador to the Portuguese in 1622.
Her brother was failing to defeat the Portuguese and needed Nzinga’s help to negotiate a treaty. She was the best fit for the job, as she spoke fluent Portuguese. Upset with the famine and terror that ravaged her home village, she agreed to meet to negotiate with Dom João Correia de Sousa, the Portuguese Governor.
Nzinga soon had the chance to show her emerging skills as a negotiator. In an effort to restore peace, the Portuguese initiated talks with Ndongo in 1622. Nzinga was sent as Mbandi’s representative to negotiate with the Portuguese governor, Corrêa de Souza, based in Luanda. She arrived resplendent in her royal clothes and retinue. A Dutch artist recorded the historical meeting in a sketch. The story is that only one chair was available at the conference—the governor’s chair—a ploy to make Nzinga stand and therefore seem inferior. Nevertheless, Nzinga signaled to one of her maids who fell on her hands and knees to provide a seat for Nzinga. Now facing the governor on his level, Nzinga was able to talk as equals. Treaty negotiations were successful; Nzinga convinced the Portuguese to recognize Ndongo as an independent monarchy, while agreeing to release European captives taken by her brother.
Her Baptism: Perhaps as more of a political move than a religious conversion, Nzinga let herself be baptized by the Catholic Church and took the Christian name Dona Anna de Souza, after the name of the governor. Using religion as a political tool, she reasoned that this would open her country to European missionaries and advanced science and technology. In 1623, she was named Governor of Luanda for the Portuguese and held the position until 1626.
only a year after the treaty was signed, the Portuguese disregarded the terms of the treaty and resumed their slave-gathering activities. Mbandi was proving to be a weak leader. Desperately wanting to defend Ndongo and her people, Nzinga poisoned her brother and succeeded him as queen of the Ndongo kingdom in 1623.
Nzinga as Queen
An intelligent and visionary political leader, Nzinga declared all the territory of Angola a free country. She offered refuge to escaped slaves, allied herself with Dutch traders who competed against the Portuguese, and dared to encourage revolt among Africans against the Portuguese. However, when negotiations with a series of Portuguese governors failed, the Portuguese attacked, eventually deposing Nzinga and forcing her to escape to the land of the Matamba.
In 1626, the Portuguese replaced Nzinga with a puppet Ndongo ruler named Philip, who was more likely to comply with European demands. Assessing her strategy, Nzinga formed an alliance with the Imbangala or Jaga group, going so far as to marry their chief. With the Jaga behind her, Nzinga conquered the Matamba people in 1630, established the state of Matamba, and declared herself their queen. Soon though, even the Jaga chief betrayed her by attacking Matamba.
Nzinga organized a resistance army using mercenaries and Africans the Portuguese had trained. Despite being in exile, Nzinga was able to influence her people and command their respect. She hand selected soldiers who pretended to be defectors so they could infiltrate the Portuguese armies. Once inside Portuguese ranks, they attacked. This show of loyalty to Nzinga made black troops under Portuguese domination desert to the queen. Always encouraging rebellion, Nzinga had, by 1635, developed an effective anti-Portuguese coalition that virtually held the Europeans at bay for 30 years. She has been called the greatest military strategist ever to confront the armed forces of Portugal.
While Nzinga was sending ambassadors to west and central Africa to enlist fighters, she was also pursuing good relations with the Dutch, from 1641 through 1648, to help her stop Portuguese advancement, to control the slave routes, and to reclaim Ndongo. This strange alliance with the Dutch marked the first African-European alliance against another European aggressor. She was not above forming alliances with foreign powers and then pitting them against each other, all for the goal of creating an Angola free of European influence.
A setback occurred in 1648 when Portuguese reinforcements arrived from the colony of Brazil who proved to be a formidable force. The Dutch were expelled from Luanda, leaving Nzinga without her most powerful ally. Unwilling to admit defeat, Nzinga resumed peace talks with the Portuguese for the next six years. Although the Portuguese at this time were contained, it became clear that they would not be removed. Nzinga was forced to recognize Philip as king and Portugal’s sovereignty over Ndongo.
Her successor: She was anxious that Njinga Mona’s Imbangala would not succeed her as ruler of the combined kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba, and inserted language in the treaty that bound Portugal to assist her family to retain power. Lacking a son to succeed her, she tried to vest power in the Ngola Kanini family and arranged for her sister to marry João Guterres Ngola Kanini and to succeed her. This marriage, however, was not allowed, as priests maintained that João already had a wife in Ambaca.
Her Death: She devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children.Despite numerous efforts to dethrone her, especially by Kasanje, whose Imbangala band settled to her south, and the many attempts by the Portuguese to kill her, Nzinga died a peaceful death at the age of eighty-two on December 17, 1663, in Matamba