Queen Ana Nzinga (also known as Njinga Mbande or Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba) was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdomes in Angola in the 17th century. She is remembered for here fearless resistance to colonization by the Portuguese.
Nzinga was born around 1583 to ngola Kia Samba and Guenguela Cakombe (ngola was the title for rulers of the kingdom). Her father, King Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba, was dictator of the Mbundu people. She had two sisters (Kifunji and Mukambu) and an illegitimate half-brother (Mbandi). Nzinga was favored by her father and he allowed her to join him as he governed the kingdom, and even took her to war with him.
During the 16th century, Portugal expanded its power and increased the Atlantic slave trade, but would later come under threat from England and France. The Portuguese eventually moved their slave-trading focus to the Congo and South West Africa. Because colonizers don’t know anything ever about the areas they are invading, they believed the title ngola was the name of the country instead of the title of the ruler. The land is known as Angola today due to this idiotic error.
Around 1610, Nzinga’s father was dethroned. He and his family were forced to leave the kingdom when her half-brother, Mbandi, seized power. In 1617, he called Nzinga home to help him meet with the Portuguese and secure independence for his people. Mbandi lead a full revolt against the Portuguese in 1618, but was defeated. The Ndongo dynasty was punished by executing many of the nobles. At the time, African kingdoms were expected to pay the Portuguese in people who were to be enslaved and sold.
Nzinga’s name first appears in recorded history when she served as an envoy for her brother in 1622 during a peace conference with the Portuguese governor in Luanda. The Portuguese were impressed by Nzinga’s self-assurance, and the governor was never able to gain the upper hand over her. He eventually agreed to her terms.
According to legend, she was not offered a chair when she met with the governor and instead was told to sit on the floor as an act of submission. She refused, and had one of her people get on the ground so she could sit on their back as an act of defiance. While I would normally think this was a crappy move, BUT I LOVE IT HERE.
Nzinga converted to Catholicism in 1622 which strengthened her position with the Portuguese and the peace treaty. Unfortunately, the Portuguese never honored the treaty and they continued to ravage the people and treasures of the kingdom. Nzinga’s brother, Mbandi, died from suicide due to his grief that he would never be able to recover what was lost to the Portuguese. The Portuguese were active in spreading rumors that Nzinga had poisoned her brother, and they used that lie as their basis for attempting to deny her the right to succeed her brother’s throne.
Around 1624, Nzinga is alleged to have called Mbandi’s young son, Kaza, to her side under the ruse of acting of his regent, but later having him killed so that she could assume power. In 1626, she officially began styling herself as Rainha de Andongo (Queen of Andongo). Per usual, some dude named Hari a Ndongo was against a woman ruling the kingdom.
Hari swore fealty to the Portuguese and together they forced Nzinga to flee Luanda. She was defeated in 1625, but the Portuguese put her sister on the throne who acted as Nzinga’s spy.
Nzinga regrouped in the Kingdom of Matamba, and accepted refugees of the slave trade into her territory. She officially seized power in Matamba when the female chief died in the 1630s. In 1641, the Dutch took control of Luanda, and Nzinga forged an alliance with them against the Portuguese. In 1644 she defeated them, but lost in 1646. Her other sister was captured along with their records which revealed that Nzinga was in cahoots with the Kingdom of Kongo to overthrow the Portuguese. The records also revealed that her sister had been spying for her, and they supposedly drowned her in the river (other accounts claim that she successfully escaped).
The Dutch sent Nzinga reinforcements, and she successfully defeated the Portuguese army in 1647. There were many more years of back and forth victories, but she continued to battle Portuguese colonization well into her sixties. Finally, in 1657, Nzinga achieved a peace treaty with the Portuguese. She converted (Reconverted? Double converted??) again to Catholicism in 1657 and promoted the church in her kingdom. The nation had been severely damaged by the war and over-farming at that point.
She created a treaty with Portugal to ensure that her family would retain power in Ndongo and Matamba. She attempted to secure a marriage for her sister that would allow for her family to succeed her, but the church denied it on the basis that the prospective husband was already married. Nzinga began to distance herself from the church. She focused her efforts on resettling formerly enslaved people and allowing women to again have children.
There were numerous attempts to overthrow her, but she maintained her throne until her death at the age of 80 in 1663. A civil war ripped through Matamba in her absence, and the Portuguese were able to rapidly expand their occupation in interior South West Africa. By 1671, Ndongo was officially incorporated as part of Portuguese Angola. Nzinga is remembered as a warrior queen who led the resistance against colonization with impressive military and political acumen.