In the sixteenth century, the Portugese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portugese shifted their slave-trading activities to the Congo and South West Africa. Mistaking the title of the ruler (ngola) for the name of the country, the Portugese called the land of the Mbundu people Angola—the name by which it is still known today.
Here, the Portugese encountered the brilliant and courageous Queen Nzinga, who was determined never to accept the Portugese conquest of her country. An exceptional stateswoman and military strategist, she harassed the Portugese until her death, at age eighty.
Her meeting with the Portugese governor, recorded by a Dutch artist, is legendary in the history of Africa's confrontations with Europe: Representing her brother, the ngola, Nzinga arrived at Luanda in royal splendor. Upon entering the room, Nzinga observed that the only seat in the room belonged to the governor. She promptly summoned one of her women, who fell on her hands and knees and became Nzinga's "seat". Outwitted from the start, the governor never gained the advantage at the meeting, which resulted in a treaty on equal terms.
Converting to Christianity for reasons more political than religious (primarily to forge links with the governor) she adopted the name Dona Anna de Souza. However, the governor could not honor the treaty as Portugal's rapacious appetite for black slaves had to be satisfied. She appealed to her brother to repel the Portugese, but he proved to be a weakling and Nzinga decided to take matters into her own hands.
Subsequently, Nzinga formed an alliance with the Jaga. She fashioned an organized army out of disparate elements, strengthened the alliance by marrying the Jaga chief, and ultimately created a land for her people by conquering the kingdom of Matamba. The fragile alliance with the Jaga chief ended when he betrayed her and attacked Matamba. Fortunately, dissension among the Europeans—the Dutch were encroaching on Portugal's share of the slave trade—created an opportunity for Nzinga. She established a strategic alliance with the Dutch, pitting them against the Portugese. After the Portugese routed the Dutch, Nzinga retreated to the hills of Matamba, where she established a formidable resistance movement against the Portugese regime.
She became renowned for the guerilla tactics she employed for resisting the technologically superior Portugese army. She was a brilliant strategist and, although past sixty, led her warriors herself.
Never surrendering, she died on December 17, 1663.
Her death accelerated the Portugese occupation of the interior of South West Africa, fueled by the massive expansion of the Portugese slave trade.
The nineteenth century saw European powers carving up Africa, culminating in the infliction of a brutal colonial system on all of Africa.
Modern-day resistance to the colonial system in Angola, taking a page out of Nzinga's book, was in the form of a lengthy guerilla campaign which ultimately led to Angola's independence from Portugal on November 11, 1975.
Angola (Cultures of the World, vol. 18), Sean Sheehan. Benchmark Books, 1999.
Black Women in Antiquity, Ivan Van Sertima (ed.). Transaction Books, 1990.
General History of Africa, Vol. V: Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. UNESCO, 1992.
West Central Africa: Kongo, Ndongo (African Kingdoms of the Past), Kenny Mann. Dillon Press, 1996.
Buy it in hardcover directly from the author
Women Leaders in African History, David Sweetman. General Publishing Company, Limited, 1984.
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com
Search for 'Nzinga' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
Copyright © 1996-2008 5x5 Media and African Images. All rights reserved.