Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba
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Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba
Queen Ana Nzinga
Ann Zingha.jpg
Drawing of Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba in Luanda, Angola
Bornc. 1583, Angola
DiedDecember 17, 1663(1663-12-17) (aged 79-80)
Full name
Ana de Sousa Nzingha Mbande
FatherKing Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba

Queen Nzingha (1583-1663) was a 17th-century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in what is known as Angola today.[1] Born into the ruling family of Ndongo, Nzinga demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises in her capacity as ambassador to the Portuguese, and later assumed power over the kingdoms after the death of her brother. She ruled during a period of rapid growth in the African slave trade. Her reign lasted 37 years.

Nzinga fought for the freedom and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese,[1] who were concentrating their efforts towards South West Africa, in attempts to control the slave trade.[2] Today, she is remembered in Angola for her intelligence, her political and diplomatic wisdom, as well as her brilliant military tactics. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and in 2002 a statue of her in Largo do Kinaxixi, Luanda, Angola was dedicated by then-President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence.

Early life

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.[3] Nzinga had two sisters: Mukumbu, or Lady Barbara and Kifunji, or Lady Grace.[4] 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 Kimbundu verb 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.[5] 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.[6] She grew up during a period when the Atlantic slave trade and the consolidation of power by the Portuguese in the region were growing rapidly, and was ensued in her family's kingdom and the surrounding kingdoms.

Name variations

Queen Nzinga is known by many different names including: Rainha Ginga, Njinga Mbande, Njinga Mbandi, Jinga, Singa, Zhinga, Ginga, Njingha, Ana Njinga, Ngola Njinga, Njinga of Matamba, Zinga, Zingua, Mbande Ana Njinga, and Ann Njinga. Ngola is the Ndonga meaning for ruler, but the rest of these names are all just various spellings, mostly due to the fact that she used multiple aliases in correspondence with the Portuguese. Additionally, however, 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[6]

In current Kimbundu language, her name should be spelled Njinga, with the second letter being a soft "j" as the letter is pronounced in French and Portuguese. She wrote her name in several letters as "Ginga". The statue of Njinga now standing in the square of Kinaxixi in Luanda calls her "Mwene Njinga Mbande".

Succession to power

Nzinga's Embassy

Illustration by UNESCO[7]

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. The story goes that when Nzinga arrived, there were chairs for the Portuguese individuals and only a mat provided for her. This type of behavior from the Portuguese was common; it was their way of displaying a "subordinate status, a status reserved for conquered Africans." Nzinga ordered her maid to get on all fours and be her chair while she spoke to the governor face to face. Nzinga was a fierce negotiator and was able to reach an agreement with the Porutuguese, which entailed the withdrawal of Portuguese troops from Ndongo and recognition of its sovereignty. In return, she agreed to open trade routes to the Portuguese.[6]

Contemporary illustration of Queen Nzinga in negotiations with the Portuguese governor, dated 1657

Nzinga was so impressed by the liturgy that she converted to Christianity, and was baptized in Luanda.[8] Nzinga probably converted also in order to strengthen the peace treaty with the Portuguese. She adopted the name Dona Anna de Sousa in honour of the governor's wife when she was baptised, who was also her godmother.[2] She sometimes used this name in her correspondence (or just Anna).

Taking Over as Ruler

The Portuguese never honored the treaty. And despite the alliance with the Portuguese, they continued to raid her kingdom, taking "slaves and precious items" in the process. Neither withdrawing Ambaca, nor returning the subjects, who they held were slaves captured in war, and they were unable to restrain the Imbangala.[6]

In 1624, her brother died of mysterious causes (some say suicide, others say poisoning).[6] After his death, the Portuguese declared war on Ndongo as well as on other nearby tribes.

In 1624, Nzinga assumed control as regent of her nephew, Kaza, the legitimate male heir, who was still a minor and then residing with the Imbangala. She had her nephew killed and then assumed the powers of ruling in Ndongo.[7] In her correspondence in 1624, she fancifully styled herself "Lady of Andongo" (senhora de Andongo), but in a letter of 1626, she now called herself "Queen of Andongo" (rainha de Andongo), a title which she bore from then on.

Nzinga had a rival, Hari a Ndongo, who was opposed to a woman ruling. Hari, who was later christened Felipe I, swore vassalage to the Portuguese. With the help of members in the Kasanje Kingdom and Ndongo nobles opposed to Nzinga, she was removed from Luanda, and she fled to, where she kidnapped Matamba's Queen and army. From there, she made herself Queen and took over the kingdom. Then she returned to Ndongo and took back her throne.[3]

Nzinga used genealogy to support her claim to the throne of Ndongo against aristocratic rivals. However, neither Nzinga nor her predecessor brother had a direct right to the throne because they actually were children of slave wives, not the first wife. Nzinga strategically used the claims that she was properly descended from the main royal line because of her father, while her rivals were not at all. Her opponents, on the other hand, used other precedents to discredit her, such as that she was a female and thus ineligible.[3]

Nzinga was never able to give a credible reason for a woman to rule and she was clearly aware that being female reduced her legitimacy in the eyes of even her supporters. As a result, Nzinga adopted a more radical method of overcoming the "illegitimacy of her sex."[3] At some point in the 1640s, Nzinga decided to 'become a man', which is actually a practice many female rulers in central and western Africa used to maintain their power. Njinga reinforced this maleness by engaging in masculine pursuits. She led her troops personally in battle, and she was quite deft in the use of arms herself. It allowed her to also have multiple husbands. Nzinga required these husbands, who were known as chibados,[9] to dress in women's clothes and to sleep among her maids in waiting; should they touch these maids sexually though, they would be instantly killed.[5]

Dealing with the Portuguese and Aligning with the Dutch

In 1641, the Dutch, working in alliance with the Kingdom of Kongo, seized Luanda. Nzinga soon sent them an embassy and concluded an alliance with them against the Portuguese who continued to occupy the inland parts of their colony with their main headquarters at the town of Masangano. Hoping to recover lost lands with Dutch help, she moved her capital to Kavanga in the northern part of Ndongo's former domains. In 1644, she defeated the Portuguese army at Ngoleme, but was unable to follow up. Then, in 1646, she was defeated by the Portuguese at Kavanga and, in the process, her other sister was captured, along with her archives, which revealed her alliance with Kongo. These archives also showed that her captive sister had been in secret correspondence with Nzinga and had revealed coveted Portuguese plans to her. As a result of the woman's spying, the Portuguese reputedly drowned the sister in the Kwanza River.[3][7] However, another account states that the sister managed to escape, and ran away to modern-day Namibia.

The Dutch in Luanda sent Nzinga reinforcements, and with their help, Nzinga routed a Portuguese army in 1647.[2] Nzinga then laid siege to the Portuguese capital of Masangano. The Portuguese recaptured Luanda with a Brazilian-based assault led by Salvador Correia de Sá, and in 1648, Nzinga retreated to Matamba and continued to resist Portugal for the next 20 years.[5]

She implemented guerrilla warfare tactics and had begun to order trenches to be made around her island, created hidden caves, and stocked up on supplies to prepare her people for a potential long stating siege. She also made an unusual decree, establishing her kingdom as a safe haven for runaway slaves seeking refuge from the European colonists. In those thirty years fighting against the Portuguese, she created false alliances with neighboring kingdoms, expanding her reign farther and farther, even as she got older.[6]

Final years

In 1656, after meeting two Capuchin missionaries, she converted again to Christianity that she had opposed since 1627 and tried to similarly convert her people.[10]

On November 24, 1657, the Portuguese decided to give up their claims to Ndongo and the land was returned to its traditional leader through a treaty ratified in Lisbon by King Pedro VI.[5] After the wars with Portugal ended, she attempted to rebuild her nation, which had been seriously damaged by years of conflict and over-farming. She developed Matamba as a trading power by capitalizing on its strategic position as the gateway to the Central African interior.[5] 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.

She devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children.[1] 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.[2]

Matamba went through a civil war in her absence, but Francisco Guterres Ngola Kanini eventually carried on the royal line in the kingdom. Nzinga's death accelerated the Portuguese occupation of the interior of South West Africa, fueled by the massive expansion of the Portuguese slave trade. Portugal would not have control of the interior until the 20th century. By 1671, Ndongo became part of Portuguese Angola.

In a peculiar legend, Nzinga was noted for executing her lovers. With a large all-male harem at her disposal, she had the men fight one another to the death in order to spend the night with her and, after a single night of lovemaking, were, in turn, put to death.[4]

Successors: Njinga's sister Barbara ruled briefly, until 1666 after she died, and then after the civil war that defeated Njinga Mona's claims, she had two male successors, Joao Guterres Ngola Kanini and his son Francisco.


Statue in Luanda, Angola

Today, she is remembered in Angola as the Mother of Angola, the fighter of negotiations, and the protector of her people. She is still honored throughout Africa as a remarkable leader and woman, for her political and diplomatic acumen, as well as her brilliant military tactics.[1] Accounts of her life are often romanticized, and she is considered a symbol of the fight against oppression.[9] Nzinga ultimately managed to shape her state into a form that tolerated her authority, though surely the fact that she survived all attacks on her and built up a strong base of loyal supporters helped as much as the relevance of the precedents she cited. While Njinga had obviously not overcome the idea that females could not rule in Ndongo during her lifetime, and had to 'become a male' to retain power, her female successors faced little problem in being accepted as rulers.[7] The clever use of her gender and her political understandings helped lay a foundation for future leaders of Ndongo today. In the period of 104 years that followed Njinga's death in 1663, queens ruled for at least eighty of them. Nzinga is a leadership role model for all generations of Angolan women.  Women in Angola today display remarkable social independence and are found in the country's army, police force, government, and public and private economic sectors.[7] Nzinga was embraced as a symbol of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola during civil war.[5]

A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square in 2002,[1] dedicated by President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

The National Reserve Bank of Angola (BNA) issued a series of coins in tribute to Nzinga "in recognition of her role to defend self-determination and cultural identity of her people."[11]

An Angolan film, Njinga: Queen Of Angola (Portuguese: Njinga, Rainha de Angola), was released in 2013.[12]

"She was a fierce anticolonial warrior, a militant fighter, a woman holding power in a male-dominated society, and she laid the basis for successful Angolan resistance to Portuguese colonialism all the way into the twentieth century," writes Aurora Levins Morales while cautioning that "she was also an elite woman living off the labor of others, murdered her brother and his children, fought other African people on behalf of the Portuguese, and collaborated in the slave trade."[13]

Further reading

  • Black Women in Antiquity, Ivan Van Sertima (ed.). Transaction Books, 1990
  • Patricia McKissack, Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595; The Royal Diaries Collection (2000)
  • David Birmingham, Trade and Conquest in Angola (Oxford, 1966).
  • Heywood, Linda and John K. Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Making of the Americas, 1580-1660(Cambridge, 2007). This contains the most detailed account of her reign and times, based on a careful examination of all the relevant documentation.
  • Heywood, Linda M. Njinga of Angola: Africa's Warrior Queen. Harvard University Press, 2017.
  • Saccardo, Grazziano, Congo e Angola con la storia dell'antica missione dei cappuccini 3 Volumes, (Venice, 1982-83)
  • Williams, Chancellor, Destruction of Black Civilization (WCP)
  • van Sertima, Ivan, Black Women in Antiquity
  • Nzinga, the Warrior Queen (a play written by Elizabeth Orchardson Mazrui and published by The Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya, 2006).
    • The play is based on Nzinga and discusses issues of colonisation, traditional African rulership, women leadership versus male leadership, political succession, struggles between various Portuguese socio-political, and economic interest groups, struggles between the vested interests of the Jesuits and the Capuchins, etc.
  • West Central Africa: Kongo, Ndongo (African Kingdoms of the Past), Kenny Mann. Dillon Press, 1996.

See also


Nzinga is one of Africa's best documented early-modern rulers. About a dozen of her own letters are known (all but one published in Brásio, Monumenta volumes 6-11 and 15 passim). In addition, her early years are well described in the correspondence of Portuguese governor Fernão de Sousa, who was in the colony from 1624 to 1631 (published by Heintze). Her later activities are documented by the Portuguese chronicler António de Oliveira de Cadornega, and by two Italian Capuchin priests, Giovanni Cavazzi da Montecuccolo and Antonio Gaeta da Napoli, who resided in her court from 1658 until her death (Cavazzi presided at her funeral). Cavazzi included a number of watercolours in his manuscript which include Njinga as a central figure, as well as himself.

  • Brásio,António. Monumenta Missionaria Africana (1st series, 15 volumes, Lisbon: Agencia Geral do Ultramar, 1952-88)
  • Cadornega, António de Oliveira de. História geral das guerras angolanas (1680-81). mod. ed. José Matias Delgado and Manuel Alves da Cunha. 3 vols. (Lisbon, 1940-42) (reprinted 1972).
  • Cavazzi, Giovanni Antonio da Montecuccolo. Istorica descrizione de tre regni Congo, Matamba ed Angola. (Bologna, 1687). French translation, Jean Baptiste Labat, Relation historique de l'Éthiopie. 5 vols. (Paris, 1732) [a free translation with additional materials added]. Modern Portuguese translation, Graziano Maria Saccardo da Leguzzano, ed. Francisco Leite de Faria, Descrição histórica dos tres reinos Congo, Matamba e Angola. 2 vols. (Lisbon, 1965).
  • Gaeta da Napoli, Antonio. La Meravigliosa Conversione alla santa Fede di Christo delle Regina Singa...(Naples, 1668).
  • Heintze, Beatrix. Fontes para a história de Angola no século XVII. (2 vols, Wiesbaden, 1985-88) Contains the correspondence of Fernão de Souza.



  1. ^ a b c d e Elliott, Mary; Hughes, Jazmine (August 19, 2019). "A Brief History of Slavery That You Didn't Learn in School". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 20 August 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Snethen, J (16 June 2009). "Queen Nzinga (1583-1663)". BlackPast. Archived from the original on 15 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Miller, Joseph C (1975). "Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective". The Journal of African History. 16 (2): 201-216. doi:10.1017/S0021853700001122. JSTOR 180812.
  4. ^ a b Jackson, Guida M. (1990). Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 130. ISBN 0874365600.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Burness, Donald (1977). "Nzinga Mbandi' and Angolan Independence". Luso-Brazilian Review. 14 (2): 225-229. JSTOR 3513061.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Williams, Hettie V. (2010). "Queen Nzinga (Njinga Mbande)". In Alexander, Leslie M.; Rucker, Walter C. (eds.). Encyclopedia of African American History. 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851097746.
  7. ^ a b c d e Masioni, Pat; et al. (2014). "Njinga Mbandi: Queen of Ndongo and Matamba". UNESCO Digital Library. Archived from the original on 2019-10-15.
  8. ^ Baur, John. "2000 Years of Christianity in Africa - An African Church History" (Nairobi, 2009), ISBN 9966-21-110-1, pp. 74
  9. ^ a b Bleys, Rudi C. (1995). The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-Male Sexual Behavior Outside the West and the Ethnographic Imagination, 1750-1918. New York University Press. ISBN 9780814712658.
  10. ^ Baur, John. "2000 Years of Christianity in Africa - An African Church History" (Nairobi, 2009), ISBN 9966-21-110-1, pp. 74-75
  11. ^ "Angola to Launch New Kwanza Coins in 2015". Mena Report. 26 December 2014. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  12. ^ "Njinga, Queen of Angola (Njinga, Rainha de Angola) UK Premiere". Royal African Society's Annual Film Festival. 6 November 2014. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  13. ^ Levins Morales, Aurora (2019). Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (Revised & Expanded Edition). Duke University Press. p. 79. ISBN 9781478003090.


External links

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