Queen Nzingha of Ndongo Village

Nzingha Mbande (1583-1663) was the Queen of the kingdoms of Ambundu de Ndongo (1624-1663) and Matamba (1631-1663), located in present-day northern Angola. Born into the ruling Ndongo family, Nzinga received military and political training since childhood and demonstrated her ability to resolve political crises as an ambassador to the Portuguese Empire. Later, after the death of her father and brother, She took over the kingdom, where her father and brother both served as kings. She ruled during the period of the rapid growth of the slave trade in Africa and the invasion of Southwestern Africa by the Portuguese Empire in an attempt to control the slave trade. During her 37-year rule, Nzinga fought the Portuguese for the independence and stature of her kingdom.

In the years after her death, Nzinga has become a historical figure in Angola and the entire Atlantic Creole culture. She is remembered for her wisdom, political and diplomatic intelligence and excellent military tactics.

Nzingha was born in the Ndongo royal family in the Midwest around 1583. She was the daughter of Kilombo, Ngola (king) of Ndongo .

Her mother Kengela ka Nkombe was one of his father’s slave wives and his favorite concubine. Nzingha had two sisters, Kambu or Lady Barbara and Funji, or Lady Grace. She also had a younger brother, Mbandi Kiluanji, who inherited the throne after their father’s death. According to legend, for their mother, Kengela, the birth process was very difficult.
Nzinga got her name because the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck (Kimbundu’s verb kujinga means to twist or twist). Children of the royal family who survived difficult or unusual births are considered spiritually gifted, and some people believed that their birth indicated that the person would grow into a powerful and proud person.

At the age, her father became king of Ndongo. When she was a child, Nzinga was immensely favored by her father. Since she is not regarded as the heir to the throne (like her brother), she was not regarded as a direct competitor, so the king was free to focus on her without offending his most likely heirs. She received military training and was trained as a warrior to fight alongside her father, and showed considerable talent in using the traditional weapons of Ndongan warriors, the battle axe. Together with her father, she participated in many government and official duties, including legal committees, military courts, and important ceremonies. In addition, the visiting of Portuguese missionaries taught Nzinga to read and write Portuguese.

During this period, the Ndongo Kingdom dealt with multiple crises, mainly due to conflicts with the Portuguese Empire. The Portuguese first arrived in Ndongo in 1575 when they established a trading post in Luanda with the help of Ndongo’s northern rival, the Kingdom of Kongo. Despite several years of initial cooperation between Ndongo and Portugal, the relationship between the two countries deteriorated and turned into a decades-long war. Ndongo faced strong military pressure from Portugal and Kongo, both of which seized the territory of Ndongan. By the 1580s, large parts of Ndongo had fallen under the control of the Portuguese. The Portuguese waged war cruelly, burning villages and taking hostages. In addition to territorial conquest, the Portuguese also captured a large number of slaves (50,000 according to one source) during the conflict and built fortresses in Ndongan to control the slave trade. Nodongo rebelled against the Portuguese and defeated them at the Battle of Lucala in 1590, but by that time the kingdom had lost most of its territory. The conflict also weakened the king’s power: many Ndongo nobles refused to pay tribute to the royal family and some sided with the Portuguese. When Nzingha’s father became king in 1593, the area had been destroyed by war and the king’s power had been greatly reduced. The king tried various methods to deal with the crisis, including diplomacy, negotiation, and open war, but none of them could improve the situation.

The situation in Ndongo became worse when the kingdom was invaded by Imbangala in 1607, and these tribal mercenaries were known for their ferocity and religious enthusiasm in battle. As the Bangalans formed an alliance with the Portuguese, the new threat forced King Ndongan to abandon any attempt to reconquer his lost territory.

In 1617, Ngola Mbandi Kiluanji died, and his son and Nzinga’s brother Ngola Mbandi came to power. After taking the throne, he went through several months of political bloodshed, killing many competitors for the throne, including his half-brothers and family. 35 At that time, Nzingha was spared, but the new king ordered her young son killed, and at the same time, she and her two sisters were forcibly sterilized to ensure that she would never have any more children. According to some sources, Nzingha was subjected to harsh treatment due to her long-standing rivalry with her brother. Perhaps worried for her life, Nzinga fled to the Matamba Kingdom.

After consolidating his power, Mbadi promised to continue fighting with the Portuguese. However, he lacked military skills and, although he was able to form an alliance with Imbangala, the Portuguese made significant military progress. Faced with threats from the Portuguese, he contacted Nzingha in 1621 and asked her to be his messenger to the Portuguese in Luanda. She was the best candidate for this job because she has royal blood and speaks fluent Portuguese. She agreed to lead the diplomatic mission, stipulating that she had the right to negotiate on behalf of the king and allow her to be baptized, which was an important diplomatic tool she hoped to use against the Portuguese. Nzingha left the capital Ndongan with a large group of entourage, and received great attention in Luanda, forcing the Portuguese governor to pay all the expenses of her party. Although the leader of Ndongo usually knew Portuguese wearing western clothing, she chose to wear the gorgeous traditional clothes (including feathers and jewelry) of the Ndongo people to show that their culture is not inferior. The story goes like this. When Nzingha arrived, the Portuguese had a chair and only provided a cushion. This behavior of Portuguese is very common. This is his way of demonstrating his “subordinate status, the status reserved for the conquered Africans.”

In response, Nzingha’s assistant served as her chair while she was talking face-to-face with the governor. She used flattery as a diplomatic tool, and according to some sources, she deliberately chose to compare his brother’s belligerent style with her own diplomatic etiquette. As an ambassador, Nzingha’s main goal is to ensure peace between her people and the Portuguese. To this end, she promised the Portuguese to end the hostilities (depicting his brother’s previous actions as the young king’s mistake), allowed Portuguese slave traders to enter Ndongo, and offered to repatriate the escaped Portuguese slaves who had fought in his brother’s army. In return, she asked Portugal to dismantle the fortress built in the territory of Ndongan, insisting that Ndongo would not pay tribute to Portugal, and pointed out that only the conquered people would pay tribute, and her people were not defeated. She also expressed the desire for cooperation between the two countries, noting that they can support each other and confront the common enemy in the region. When the Portuguese questioned her commitment to peace, Nzingha offered to be publicly baptized and was very quiet in Luanda. In honor of her godparents Ana da Silva (the governor’s wife and ordained godmother) and Governor Joao Correia de Sousa, she adopted the name Dona Anna de Sousa. A peace treaty was later reached and Nzingha triumphantly returned to Kabasa in late 1622.

Despite her success in the negotiations with the Portuguese, the peace of Ndongo and the Imbangala- themselves engaged in the expansion of their territories – broke apart. After a series of failures, the Ndongo royal family was expelled from their court in Kabasa, the king was exiled and allowed some Imbangala to establish the Kingdom of Kasanje. The Portuguese wanted to keep signing the treaty, but they refused to help Ndongo fight the Imbangala until the king recovered Kabasa and was baptized. King Mbadi recaptured Kabasa in 1623 and took provisional measures against Christianity, but still expressed deep mistrust of the Portuguese. As an increasingly powerful figure in the royal family, Nzingha (perhaps performing a political stunt) warned his brother that baptism would offend his adherents of traditionalism, persuading him to reject any idea of baptism. Furthermore, the Portuguese began to violate the treaty, refused to withdraw from the fortresses in Ndongo, and sought booty and slaves in the territory of Ndongo. By 1624, King Mbadi fell into deep depression and was forced to hand over many of his responsibilities to Nzingha.

by Achille DevÈria, printed by FranÁois Le Villain, published by Edward Bull, published by Edward Churton, after Unknown artist, hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s

In 1624, her brother died of mysterious causes (some say suicide, others say poisoning). Before his death, he had made it clear that Nzingha should be his successor. Nzingha quickly moved to consolidate her rule, having her supporters seize the ritual objects associated with the monarchy and eliminating her opponents at court. She also assumed the title of Ngola, conferring a position of great influence among her people.

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. Accounts of her life are often romanticized, and she is considered a symbol of the fight against oppression. Nzingha 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. 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. Nzingha 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. Nzingha was embraced as a symbol of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola during civil war.

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