Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba

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Queen Ana Nzinga
Ann Zingha.jpg
Drawing of Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba in Luanda, Angola
Bornc. 1583, Angola
DiedDecember 17, 1663
Full name
Ana de Sousa Nzingha Mbande
HouseThe Kingdom of the Ndongo
FatherKing Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba

Queen Ana Nzinga (c. 1583 – December 17, 1663), also known as Njinga Mbande or Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande,[1] was a 17th-century queen (muchino a muhatu) of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in Angola.[2] Born into the ruling family of Ndongo and Matamba, Nzinga demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises in her capacity as ambassador to the Portuguese, and later assumed power over the kingdoms after the death of her brother.

Nzinga fought for the freedom and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese, who were colonizing the area at the time.[2] Today, she is remembered in Angola for her political and diplomatic acumen, as well as her brilliant military tactics. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and in 2002 a statue of her in Kinaxixi was dedicated by then-President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence.

Early life[edit]

Nzinga was born to ngola Kia Samba and Guenguela Cakombe around 1583.[3] She was related to Nzinga Mhemba, who was baptized as Alfonso in 1491 by the Portuguese.[4] Nzinga also had two sisters: Mukumbu, or Lady Barbara and Kifunji, or Lady Grace.[4] Nzinga's father, a dictator, was ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms which governed the Mbundu people.[5] When Kia Samba was dethroned some time in the 1610s, his illegitimate son, Mbandi, took power and Nzinga was forced to leave the kingdom since she was his challenger to the throne.[5]

According to tradition, she was named Njinga because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbundu verb kujinga means to twist or turn). It was said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would be proud and haughty, and a wise woman told her mother that Nzinga would become queen one day. According to her recollections later in life, she was greatly favoured by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war. She also had a brother, Mbandi, and two sisters, Kifunji and Mukambu. She lived during a period when the Atlantic slave trade and the consolidation of power by the Portuguese in the region were growing rapidly.

In the 16th century, the Portuguese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portuguese 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 Portuguese called the land of the Mbundu people "Angola"—the name by which it is still known today.[1]

Nzinga first appears in historical records as the envoy of her brother, the ngiolssa Ngola Mbandi, at a peace conference with the Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa in Luanda in 1622.[6]

Succession to power[edit]

Illustration for UNESCO by Pat Masioni [fr]

First contacts with the Portuguese[edit]

In 1557, the ruler (ngola) of Ndongo, Ndambi, requested military aid from the Portuguese and to be baptized. In 1560, an embassy led by Paulo Dias de Novais arrived but the new ruler of Ndongo, Kiluanji kia Ndambi suspected them to be agents of the Kongo and had them imprisoned. Kiluanji, however, allowed Novais to return to Portugal under the condition to lend military aid. In 1575, Novais returned with an expedition of seven ships, 700 settlers and 350 soldiers and in 1576 established at Luanda a new settlement with the consent of the kings of Ndongo and Kongo.[7]

Contemporary illustration of Queen Nzinha in negotiations with the Portuguese governor, dated 1657

By 1618, the heir of Ndambi and ruler of Matamba, Mbandi, who Nzinga was a sister of, revolted against the Portuguese, but was defeated by the forces of governor Luís Mendes de Vasconcelos who attacked the Ndongo capital with the help of allied Imbangala and executed the nobles of the Ndongo dynasty.[8] The Portuguese expected conquered African kingdoms to pay them a tribute in slaves.[8] The slavery tribute was set up by a Portuguese official, Bento Cardoso, in 1608, which "demanded the delivery of slaves to the Portuguese through a Ndongo notable."[9]

Nzinga's embassy[edit]

Mbandi called Nzinga back to the kingdom sometime in 1617 in order to meet with the Portuguese with the goal of securing the independence of Ndongo.[5]

Nzinga was sent to offer a treaty of peace, reaching out to the Portuguese governor of Luanda.[10] The meeting took place in 1622, and Nzinga surprised the delegates, "who were stunned by her self-assurance."[11] The governor, João Correia de Sousa, never gained the advantage at the meeting and agreed to her terms, which resulted in a treaty on equal terms. One important point of disagreement was the question of whether Ndongo surrendered to Portugal and accepted vassalage status. A famous story says that in her meeting with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations, and, instead, had placed a floor mat for her to sit, which in Mbundu custom was appropriate only for subordinates. Not willing to accept this degradation she ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant's back during negotiations.[12] The scene was imaginatively reconstructed by the Italian priest Cavazzi and printed as an engraving in his book of 1687.

Nzinga converted to Catholicism in 1622, where she was baptized in Luanda.[13] Nzinga may have converted in order to strengthen the peace treaty with the Portuguese, and adopted the name Dona Anna de Sousa in honour of the governor's wife when she was baptised, who was also her godmother. She sometimes used this name in her correspondence (or just Anna). Her first conversion was "done primarily for political reasons and to ingratiate herself to the Portuguese."[5] The Portuguese never honoured the treaty.[14] And despite the alliance with the Portuguese, they continued to raid her kingdom, taking "slaves and precious items" in the process.[10]

Neither withdrawing Ambaca, nor returning the subjects, who they held were slaves captured in war, and they were unable to restrain the Imbangala.

Nzinga's brother committed suicide following this diplomatic impasse, convinced that he would never have been able to recover what he had lost in the war. Rumours were also afoot that Nzinga had actually poisoned him, and these rumours were repeated by the Portuguese as grounds for not honouring her right to succeed her brother.

Nzinga assumed control as regent of his young son, Kaza, who was then residing with the Imbangala. Nzinga sent to have the boy in her charge. The son returned, whom she is alleged to have killed for his impudence. She then assumed the powers of ruling in Ndongo. In her correspondence in 1624, she fancifully styled herself "Lady of Andongo" (senhora de Andongo), but in a letter of 1626, she now called herself "Queen of Andongo" (rainha de Andongo), a title which she bore from then on.

Nzinga had a rival, Hari a Ndongo, who was opposed to a woman ruling.[15] Hari, who was later christened Felipe I, swore vassalage to the Portuguese.[15] With the help of members in the Kasanje Kingdom and Ndongo nobles opposed to Nzinga, she was removed from Luanda, and she fled to Milemba aCangola.[16]

Nzinga was defeated in 1625 and withdrew her forces to the east.[17] The Portuguese set up Nzinga's sister, Kifunji, as a puppet ruler who acted as a loyal spy to Nzinga for many years.[4] Nzinga was able to regroup and strengthen her base of power within the territory of Matamba in 1629.[18] During this time, Nzinga accepted refugees of the slave trade.[18]

During the 1630s, Nzinga was able to seize power in Matamba when the female chief or muhongo Matamba, died.[19]

Dutch alliance[edit]

In 1641, the Dutch, working in alliance with the Kingdom of Kongo, seized Luanda. Nzinga soon sent them an embassy and concluded an alliance with them against the Portuguese who continued to occupy the inland parts of their colony of males with their main headquarters at the town of Masangano. Hoping to recover lost lands with Dutch help, she moved her capital to Kavanga in the northern part of Ndongo's former domains. In 1644 she defeated the Portuguese army at Ngoleme, but was unable to follow up. Then, in 1646, she was defeated by the Portuguese at Kavanga and, in the process, her other sister was captured, along with her archives, which revealed her alliance with Kongo. These archives also showed that her captive sister had been in secret correspondence with Nzinga and had revealed coveted Portuguese plans to her. As a result of the woman's spying, the Portuguese reputedly drowned the sister in the Kwanza River.

However, another account states that the sister managed to escape, and ran away to modern-day Namibia.

The Dutch in Luanda now sent Nzinga reinforcements, and with their help, Nzinga routed a Portuguese army in 1647. Nzinga then laid siege to the Portuguese capital of Masangano. The Portuguese recaptured Luanda with a Brazilian-based assault led by Salvador Correia de Sá, and in 1648, Nzinga retreated to Matamba and continued to resist Portugal. She resisted the Portuguese well into her sixties, personally leading troops into battle.

Final years[edit]

In 1657, weary from the long struggle, Nzinga signed a peace treaty with Portugal. The church "re-accepted" Nzinga in 1656.[13] She converted again to Catholicism in 1657.[18] Along with the Capuchins, she promoted churches in her kingdom.[13] After the wars with Portugal ended, she attempted to rebuild her nation, which had been seriously damaged by years of conflict and over-farming. She was anxious that Njinga Mona's Imbangala not succeed her as ruler of the combined kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba, and inserted language in the treaty that bound Portugal to assist her family to retain power. Lacking a son to succeed her, she tried to vest power in the Ngola Kanini family and arranged for her sister to marry João Guterres Ngola Kanini and to succeed her. This marriage, however, was not allowed, as priests maintained that João had a wife in Ambaca. She returned to the Christian church to distance herself ideologically from the Imbangala and took a Kongo priest Calisto Zelotes dos Reis Magros as her personal confessor. She permitted Capuchin missionaries, first Antonio da Gaeta and the Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo to preach to her people. Both wrote lengthy accounts of her life, kingdom, and strong will.

She devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children. Despite numerous efforts to dethrone her, especially by Kasanje, whose Imbangala band settled to her south, Nzinga would die a peaceful death at the age of eighty on 17 December 1663 in Matamba. Matamba went though a civil war in her absence, but Francisco Guterres Ngola Kanini eventually carried on the royal line in the kingdom. Her death accelerated the Portuguese occupation of the interior of South West Africa, fueled by the massive expansion of the Portuguese slave trade. Portugal would not have control of the interior until the 20th century. By 1671, Ndongo became part of Portuguese Angola.[20]


Statue in Luanda, Angola

Today, she is remembered in Angola 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.[21]

A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square in 2002, dedicated by President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

The National Reserve Bank of Angola (BNA) issued a series of coins in tribute to Nzinga "in recognition of her role to defend self-determination and cultural identity of her people."[22]

An Angolan film, Njinga: Queen Of Angola (Portuguese: Njinga, Rainha de Angola), was released in 2013.[23]

"She was a fierce anticolonial warrior, a militant fighter, a woman holding power in a male-dominated society, and she laid the basis for successful Angolan resistance to Portuguese colonialism all the way into the twentieth century," writes Aurora Levins Morales while cautioning that "she was also an elite woman living off the labor of others, murdered her brother and his children, fought other African people on behalf of the Portuguese, and collaborated in the slave trade."[24]

Name variations[edit]

Nzinga has many variations on her name and, in some cases, is even known by completely different names, because of the multiple aliases she used in correspondence with the Portuguese. These names include (but are not limited to): Queen Nzinga, Nzinga I, Queen Nzinga Mdongo, Nzinga Mbandi, Nzinga Mbande, Jinga, Singa, Zhinga, Ginga, Njinga, Njingha, Ana Nzinga, Ngola Nzinga, Nzinga of Matamba, Queen Nzinga of Ndongo, Zinga, Zingua, Ann Nzinga, Nxingha, Mbande Ana Nzinga, Ann Nzinga, Anna de Sousa, and Dona Ana de Sousa.

In current Kimbundu language, her name should be spelled Njinga, with the second letter being a soft "j" as the letter is pronounced in French and Portuguese. She wrote her name in several letters as "Ginga". The statue of Njinga now standing in the square of Kinaxixi in Luanda calls her "Mwene Njinga Mbande".

In literature and legend[edit]

According to the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir, Nzinga was a woman who "immolated her lovers." De Sade's reference for this comes from History of Zangua, Queen of Angola. It claims that after becoming queen, she obtained a large, all male harem at her disposal. These men wore women's clothing and were known as chibados.[25]

Her men fought to the death in order to spend the night with her and, after a single night of lovemaking, were put to death.[26] It is also said that Nzinga made her male servants dress as women.[27] In 1633, Nzinga's oldest brother died of cancer, which some attribute to her.[citation needed]


Nzinga is one of Africa's best documented early-modern rulers. About a dozen of her own letters are known (all but one published in Brásio, Monumenta volumes 6-11 and 15 passim). In addition, her early years are well described in the correspondence of Portuguese governor Fernão de Sousa, who was in the colony from 1624 to 1631 (published by Heintze). Her later activities are documented by the Portuguese chronicler António de Oliveira de Cadornega, and by two Italian Capuchin priests, Giovanni Cavazzi da Montecuccolo and Antonio Gaeta da Napoli, who resided in her court from 1658 until her death (Cavazzi presided at her funeral). Cavazzi included a number of watercolours in his manuscript which include Njinga as a central figure, as well as himself.

Brásio,António. Monumenta Missionaria Africana (1st series, 15 volumes, Lisbon: Agencia Geral do Ultramar, 1952–88)

Cadornega, António de Oliveira de. História geral das guerras angolanas (1680-81). mod. ed. José Matias Delgado and Manuel Alves da Cunha. 3 vols. (Lisbon, 1940–42) (reprinted 1972).

Cavazzi, Giovanni Antonio da Montecuccolo. Istorica descrizione de tre regni Congo, Matamba ed Angola. (Bologna, 1687). French translation, Jean Baptiste Labat, Relation historique de l'Éthiopie. 5 vols. (Paris, 1732) [a free translation with additional materials added]. Modern Portuguese translation, Graziano Maria Saccardo da Leguzzano, ed. Francisco Leite de Faria, Descrição histórica dos tres reinos Congo, Matamba e Angola. 2 vols. (Lisbon, 1965).

Gaeta da Napoli, Antonio. La Meravigliosa Conversione alla santa Fede di Christo delle Regina Singa...(Naples, 1668).

Heintze, Beatrix. Fontes para a história de Angola no século XVII. (2 vols, Wiesbaden, 1985–88) Contains the correspondence of Fernão de Souza.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Williams 2010, p. 82.
  2. ^ a b Engel, Kerilynn (2016). "Amazing women in history". Archived from the original on 2012.
  3. ^ Williams 2010, p. 83.
  4. ^ a b c Jackson, Guida M. (1990). Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 130. ISBN 0874365600.
  5. ^ a b c d Page 2001, p. 198.
  6. ^ "Black History Heroes: Queen Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande of Ndongo (Angola)". Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  7. ^ Luís de Albuquerque Portugal no Mundo, Publicações Alfa, 1989, p.546, vol. 1 (Portuguese)
  8. ^ a b Njoku 1997, p. 38.
  9. ^ Williams 2010, p. 82-83.
  10. ^ a b Njoka 1997, p. 39.
  11. ^ Serbin and Rasoanaivo-Randriamamonjy 2015, p. 20.
  12. ^ Snethen, Jessica. "Queen Nzinga (1583-1663)". Black Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  13. ^ a b c The Church in the Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment. Translated by Gunther J. Holst. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. 1981. p. 273. ISBN 0824500105.CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. ^ Thornton 2011, p. 182-183.
  15. ^ a b Thornton 2011, p. 183.
  16. ^ Vansina 1963, p. 360.
  17. ^ Reid, Richard J. (2012). Warfare in African History. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780521123976.
  18. ^ a b c Serbin and Rasoanaivo-Randriamamonjy 2015, p. 21.
  19. ^ Page 2001, p. 164.
  20. ^ Page 2001, p. 190.
  21. ^ Thornton 1991, p. 25.
  22. ^ "Angola to Launch New Kwanza Coins in 2015". Mena Report. 26 December 2014. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 26 June 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  23. ^ "Njinga, Queen of Angola (Njinga, Rainha de Angola) UK Premiere". Royal African Society's Annual Film Festival. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  24. ^ Levins Morales, Aurora (2019). Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (Revised & Expanded Edition). Duke University Press. p. 79. ISBN 9781478003090.
  25. ^ Bleys, Rudi C. (1995). The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-Male Sexual Behavior Outside the West and the Ethnographic Imagination, 1750-1918. New York University Press. ISBN 9780814712658.
  26. ^ "Nzinga Mbande: Mother of Angola". Rejected Princesses. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  27. ^ "Nzinga Mbande: Mother of Angola". Rejected Princesses. Retrieved 2019-04-19.


Further reading[edit]

  • Black Women in Antiquity, Ivan Van Sertima (ed.). Transaction Books, 1990
  • Patricia McKissack, Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595 ; The Royal Diaries Collection (2000)
  • David Birmingham, Trade and Conquest in Angola (Oxford, 1966).
  • Heywood, Linda and John K. Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Making of the Americas, 1580-1660 (Cambridge, 2007). This contains the most detailed account of her reign and times, based on a careful examination of all the relevant documentation.
  • Saccardo, Grazziano, Congo e Angola con la storia dell'antica missione dei cappuccini 3 Volumes, (Venice, 1982–83)
  • Williams, Chancellor, Destruction of Black Civilization (WCP)
  • van Sertima, Ivan, Black Women in Antiquity
  • Nzinga, the Warrior Queen (a play written by Elizabeth Orchardson Mazrui and published by The Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya, 2006). The play is based on Nzinga and discusses issues of colonisation, traditional African ruleship, women leadership versus male leadership, political succession, struggles between various Portuguese socio-political, and economic interest groups, struggles between the vested interests of the Jesuits and the Capuchins, etc.
  • West Central Africa: Kongo, Ndongo (African Kingdoms of the Past), Kenny Mann. Dillon Press, 1996.

External links[edit]