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The Warrior Queen: Nzinga Mbande

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Today, we are journeying to South Africa, into what is now known as Angola, and we’re going to talk about the legendary warrior queen Nzinga Mbande.

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Today, we are journeying to South Africa, into what is now known as Angola, and we’re going to talk about the legendary warrior queen Nzinga Mbande.

Born around 1582/1583, Nzinga was the daughter of the “ngola” or the “king” of her people, the Mbundo. She was the oldest of four siblings, and was described from an early age as being intelligent and driven.

Rumor has it that when she was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, which was then a sign of being a good leader and being expected to do great things. Now, I’m not really sure how true or realistic this is, because it sounds a little too on the nose to be true, and also I wasn’t able to find anything that correlated that claim. But, it is an interesting little rumor.

Nzinga had only one brother, Mbandi, and when their father died around 1617, he was the one who inherited the throne. At this time, Portugal was concentrating most of their efforts on the expanding slave trade that was being established in South Africa. While Nzinga and Mbandi’s father had managed to negotiate some sort of tentative peace between their people and the Portugese colonists, Mbandi didn’t have nearly the same political prowess, and he would often times flee in the face of danger.

It was right around the turn of the century, after the Portugese had burned down the capital city of the Ndongo and widespread famine began to spread through the Ndongo people that Mbandi called on his sister for help.

Nzinga was 40 at this time, and part of her role as the daughter of the “ngola” was to act as an ambassador for her people. In 1622, Nzinga took her servants to the capital city of Kabasa to meet with the viceroy of the Portugese, basically the official in charge of running things while they were in the country.

When she arrived, the viceroy and his fellow representatives were all seated and provided no chair to Nzinga. So what does Nzinga, eldest daughter of the “ngola”, representative of her people, do in the face of this disrespect?

She has one of her servants get on their hands and knees, and then sits on their back, forming a human chair. Then, she proceeds to talk about the power and strength of her kingdom, and how they are ready and willing to fight for their land and rights. She presents these arguments logically and matter of fact, and in doing so completely impresses the viceroy and everyone with him.

There’s a belief that after using her servant as a chair, she then slit their throat and told the Portugese people, “she didn’t use the same chair twice”, and expected a new chair to be provided for her upon their next meeting.

Eventually, Nzinga and the Portugese people signed a treaty, hinged on the fact that Nzinga would have to convert to Catholicism. After she was baptized and given the name Anna da Souza, she returned back home.

There’s a torn belief that in 1624, Nzinga either killed her brother to establish that she was the better ruler, or her brother committed suicide due to his lack of skills as a leader. Either way, her brother died, not to any real grief from her people, and Nzinga took over as their ruler.

And, this is something that isn’t quite as up to interpretation, but Nzinga did kill her nephew in order to solidify her reign. Her people embraced her as their leader, and she insisted on going by the title of “ngola”, which was then actually later adapted in to her country’s present name of Angola.

When she officially took over, she formally renounced Catholicism and encouraged her people to embrace their cultural religions, ceremonies, and other practices, which had been discouraged at that time during Mbande’s rule.

In 1626, the Portugese broke terms of the treaty that they’d established with Nzinga, and therefore lead to Nzinga reconstructing her entire army, with herself and her sister’s in charge. The three of them lead an attack on the Portugese people, but ultimately they lost as the Portugese were equipped with horses and more weapons. Her sisters were kidnapped and imprisoned.

In 1630, Nzinga lead her people on what would be a five year journey to find peace. They eventually settled in the land of Matamba, and began to regroup to continue their battles against the Portugese.

Nzinga would personally lead all of the battles in the Portugese ahead of her warriors, and many times they were successful enough to cause the Portugese to retreat. Eventually, the threat of the Portugese expanding their reach in to Matamba inspired Nzinga to ally herself with their enemies, the Dutch.

She would trade them prisoners of war and in exchange received guns and ammunition. With these allies, eventually the Dutch were able to conquer the Portugese people and their strong hold.

Nzinga died in 1663, at the age of 81, and left behind a completely thriving kingdom.

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