Ana Nzinga Mbande-Queen of Angola

NPG D34632; Ann Zingha by Achille DevÈria, printed by  FranÁois Le Villain, published by  Edward Bull, published by  Edward Churton, after  Unknown artist

In the 16th century, Portuguese slave traders turned to the Congo and southwest Africa, after their stake in the slave trade was threatened by England and France in the northern part of the continent. Their most stubborn opposition came from an unexpected source: an Angolan queen who ruthlessly maneuvered her way into power, fought off the slavers for decades, and, rumor has it, immolated her lovers.

Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, also known as Nzinga Mbandi, Anna Nzinga, and Rainha Ginga, was born in 1583 to the king of Ndongo, a kingdom of the Mbundu people in modern-day Angola. The story goes that Nzinga was so named because she was born with her mother’s umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and the Mbundu word for “to twist” is kujinga (an alternate spelling of Nzinga is “Njinga”). This circumstance was believed to indicate that the child would grow to be proud and haughty.

The king, Ngola Kiluanji, allowed Nzinga and his son, Ngola Mbandi, to witness his governance of the kingdom, which included numerous guerrilla raids against Portuguese invaders who were trying to infiltrate the territory. His children, as a result, grew up with a sharp understanding of the horrific implications of Portuguese colonization, which depended on slavery to expand its reach and riches.

According to Joseph C. Miller’s Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective, Nzinga first appears in the historical record in 1622, when she arrived in Luanda as the emissary for her brother, the ruler at the time. He had been dedicating all of his efforts and forces to keeping the Portuguese out of the highlands east of Luanda. During her visit, Nzinga converted to Christianity, and was baptized as Ana de Souza, a fact that would help her in her later negotiations with the Portuguese. Within two years of his sister’s visit to Luanda, Ngola Mbandi had died under unknown circumstances, and Nzinga had staked her claim as ruler of the kingdom.

Though Nzinga was about to revolutionize diplomatic relations between the Portuguese and the Mbundu state, she seized her title with great opposition from the internal political factions in the kingdom. The 17th-century Mbundu kingdom was made up of a hierarchy of linked political titleholders each with their own followings. After Ngola Mbandi’s death, the king’s title would normally have gone to the leader with a combination of the most number of followers and the most deft political maneuvering.

“The scant evidence available on Nzinga’s place in this general structure indicates that her claim to the royal title of the ngola a kiluanje violated established Mbundu norms,” writes Miller. “The Mbundu harbored strong feelings against females assuming any political title and explicitly prohibited any woman from assuming the position of the ngola a kiluanje.”

Initially, the Portuguese did not recognize Nzinga as the rightful ruler of the Mbundu people, either; they suspected that she was somehow implicated in her brother’s death and refused to honor her right to succeed him. They instead assumed that the heir apparent to the Mbundu throne was Ngola Mbandi’s son.

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As a result, Nzinga was forced to turn to support from outside the state: from a band of Imbangala warriors who inhabited the borders of the Mbundu kingdom and had expressed hostility against both Mbundu and Portuguese armies in the past. She also offered asylum to slaves escaping from Portuguese territories, eventually recruiting them as manpower.

The Imbangala in particular were crucial to increasing Nzinga’s position in domestic politics. Not only were they notorious for their fierce ways and highly effective war strategies, they did not have the same hierarchical structure as the Mbundu and frequently recognized women under the title of tembanza: a leader in both war and politics. Nzinga manipulated the Imbangala’s readiness to accept a kinless woman as their leader by assuming the tembanza position in a group of Imbangala lead by the kaza, one of the most powerful warlords in the region.

The Mbundu recognized Nzinga’s situation with the kaza as a marriage of sorts, and so did the Portuguese. According to Miller, Nzinga then used the kaza to help her kill her brother’s son, the heir apparent, in an effort to secure her position as the leader of the Mbundu. However, eventually the Imbangala left Nzinga and defected to the Portuguese due to her lack of Imbangala ancestry. By 1629, Nzinga was left without allies, with the Portuguese army in hot pursuit.

She fled to the old Mbundu kingdom of Matamba, a safeground that had in recent years been ravaged by Portuguese and Imbangala raids. In the 16th century, Matamba had flourished under the rule of several queens, although they had long since ceded rule to Nzinga’s father, Ngola Kiluanji, and later her brother. The disarray after his death and the various raids had created a political vacuum which Nzinga was quick to fill, using their willingness to accept female rulers to buttress her position as leader of the Mbundu.

Nzinga increased her wealth, her armies and her power by blocking Portuguese access to slave trade routes and diverting the slaves into Matamba. She continued to resist Portuguese troops well into her 60s, and it is said that she would wear male dress and lead her armies into battle herself.

Legends of Nzinga extend outside of her brilliant military tactics and political strategy. In Philosophy in the Boudoir, the Marquis de Sade wrote that Nzinga “immolated her lovers,” obtaining a large, all-male harem after she became queen and having each man she slept with killed after their carnal encounter. Though there is no way of knowing if there is truth to these rumors, there is no denying Nzinga was a ruthless ruler, unafraid of sacrificing men who came in her way.

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In 1657, at the age of 74, Nzinga entered peace treaty talks with the Portuguese, after having fought and been worn down by colonial and slave raiding attacks for decades. After conceding much of her power, Nzinga devoted her efforts to rebuilding her war-torn nation. Following her death in 1663, the Portuguese lost their most valiant opposition and were able to accelerate their colonial occupation.

As Donald Burness points out in “Nzinga Mbandi” and Angolan Independence, up until the 20th century, not much had been written by African writers on historical African revolutionaries. But during Angola’s fight for independence from the Portuguese in the 1970s, an MPLA leader named Manual Pacavira wrote a novel about Nzinga called Nzinga Mbandi while imprisoned by the Portuguese, drawing many parallels between her fight and the ongoing civil war.

“The spirit of Rainha Ginga is not dead; it serves as a source of inspiration and pride to a people and its leaders who face new challenges and new opportunities,” writes Burness. Angola is now independent, and a statue dedicated to Nzinga in Luanda serves as a tribute to one of the first people to have fought for its freedom.

Article written by Urvija Banjeri

39 thoughts on “Ana Nzinga Mbande-Queen of Angola

  1. Don’t get me wrong,but tried to negotiate and trust white people was like sending your own people certain to death sentence!
    African tribes were naïve and fool,they were more busy to
    fight for divide the kingdoms and boundaries, there were not worry that the real enemy were white people!
    If they understood immediately that the real enemy who was, me and you know already that our stories would have been different!
    We are too focused on ourselves not to see who is really the real threat!
    Whites have always used these traps to fool the African tribes, even today they still do it with us!
    Certainly she was a great warrior and queen, but trust white people? Please! Portuguese people were the worst, they have carried the largest number of black slaves in Brazil!
    I have met some black Portuguese people,they told me that white Portuguese are racist and they treat them so badly, after 500 years these people still racist!Not matter!!
    Can you tell me which white people in the world regardless of the languages and cultures are from,aren’t racist? Because some black people think some whites have exceptions!

    • Our African people are like that. Which is something I hate! We cannot negotiate with colonial terrorists in our land under no circumstances.

      It is PURE MADNESS for Europeans to steal African lands and human beings, and for African people to make treaties with Europeans. NO! Send the European back to Europe, if he can’t behave in someone else’s property.

    • Qnubian- I think you are simplifying the history of this great African Queen. She did not trust the Portuguese, did you read the part where she single-handedly kept them at bay for decades?! By the time she entered into the peace treaty it was out of sheer exhaustion, not from trust. Like you said, she saw the writing on the wall as other African tribes and kingdoms were falling to the Europeans. She did what she had to do in the midst of an extremely difficult and heartbreaking situation.

      It’s easy to judge, but the truth of the matter is that colonization was inevitable. Once she realized that she made the tough decision to enter into futile peace talks with these demons.

      So, to say she trusted them is to grossly misrepresent her and her legacy.

  2. IF that story is true regarding her killing her male suitors after sex, her actions resemble that of the female grasshopper. That’s crazy. Hope it’s not true smh

    • I’ve been looking or the dvd for the last few years. But I can’t seem to find it. Let me know if you find it anywhere. I would really like to purchase it. I think these devils are purposely making it hard o find.

  3. Where do we get the story from that she killed her male suitors after sex? This is the first I am hearing this and smacks of some cave savage originated bullshit. Do we really think that (a) this wouldn’t be more known before. (b) the people would have rallied behind her? I mean look what they did to Utchaka after his mother dies and he went crazy? They murked his ass. Anyway i too have been looking for that dvd for a minute. Or if its a pork and cheese production, the youtube download

    • Yeah I thought that was kind of strange as well. I had never heard that before. I posted this article because a subscriber recommended it. She wanted me to do a post on Nzinga. But I will have to do some more research on whether or not she really killed her suitors.
      Yes I want that dvd too. I’ve been trying to get it. But like you and I said discussed before they make these films are to find. Or they are purposely overpriced. Any films that uplift African heroes or shows us beating Europeans….they don’t want it getting too much attention. This is a pattern I have noticed with them.

  4. Our African people are like that. Which is something I hate! We cannot negotiate with colonial terrorists in our land under no circumstances.

    It is PURE MADNESS for Europeans to steal African lands and human beings, and for African people to make treaties with Europeans. NO! Send the European back to Europe, if he can’t behave in someone else’s property.

  5. It is a blessing unto us that you have shared such a significant story of a powerful African woman, who was a great ancestral leader. The world shall not, unremember the true history makers that society has tried so arduously to make us forget. You can only hide the truth. You cannot erase it. Though white society has tried so laboriously to obscure our past with the myth of the great white dynasty, it is to their impending doom that they have chosen to do so.

    I have always believed that the backbone of any society was, and will always be their women. I challenge anyone who wishes to compare the white woman with that of the black woman, and you will see that throughout history the white woman has been fraught with the inability to lead, while the black woman has lead vast civilizations all the way down through the communities in which we live today.

    The peril of white society will be that of the white women herself. The woman they have placed so high atop this mythical pedestal, in which they profess her prodigiousness as a “Goddess.” But we all know the truth, that she is a false deity, as she has been placed upon this podium to be used as a weapon of sin, against the weak. Beware that this pedestal is frail and fragile, as it must be protected by her man since it is without foundation. The white woman is unable to lead into battle like Nzinga, as it would force her true worth to be revealed. It is for this reason that the white man expends so much energy protecting their woman, because if the “White Goddess” were to be confessed, than the white dynasty would fall into ruins.

  6. Reblogged this on Queen Ro'Shumba Mo'Nique and commented:
    Please know that history is often portrayed through the eyes of the white man. Whitewashed history is not always the truth. Please take a look at this brilliant article that I have shared and you may read my thoughts below…

    It is a blessing unto us that you have shared such a significant story of a powerful African woman, who was a great ancestral leader. The world shall not, unremember the true history makers that society has tried so arduously to make us forget. You can only hide the truth. You cannot erase it. Though white society has tried so laboriously to obscure our past with the myth of the great white dynasty, it is to their impending doom that they have chosen to do so.

    I have always believed that the backbone of any society was, and will always be their women. I challenge anyone who wishes to compare the white woman with that of the black woman, and you will see that throughout history the white woman has been fraught with the inability to lead, while the black woman has lead vast civilizations all the way down through the communities in which we live today.

    The peril of white society will be that of the white women herself. The woman they have placed so high atop this mythical pedestal, in which they profess her prodigiousness as a “Goddess.” But we all know the truth, that she is a false deity, as she has been placed upon this podium to be used as a weapon of sin, against the weak. Beware that this pedestal is frail and fragile, as it must be protected by her man since it is without foundation. The white woman is unable to lead into battle like Nzinga, as it would force her true worth to be revealed. It is for this reason that the white man expends so much energy protecting their woman, because if the “White Goddess” were to be confessed, than the white dynasty would fall into ruins.

  7. The only thing missing was that she faked her death and hit out in another land for 11 years to throw the Portugese off. Then she resurfaced to reclaim her land and keep the Portugese at bay for another several years.

  8. reality_check I understood her history,but she did a terrible mistake,she converted to Christianity and after she had a white name Ana da Souza,in practice she accepted whites! She accepted because she did for her people but accepted them,for whites that time was very easy to fool African tribes!
    They have always used us, but we who let them did, instead to stand together!
    I respect her decision,I know the Colonialism was imminent,but she could no longer change the consequences!

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