Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba

In the 17th century, present-day Angola was ruled by the adept and fearless leader, Queen Ana Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, of the Amubundu people. She came to power by inheriting Ndongo at a time when the kingdom was under attack from both the Portuguese, as well as neighbouring African aggressors. Both enemies were looking to capture slaves to feed the ever-growing transatlantic slave trade. To curb slave raiding in her kingdom, Queen Nzinga allied Ndongo with Portugal by negotiating a treaty, one cost of which was her conversion to Catholicism. The Queen was known for her tact, strategic prowess and most of all boldness. A famous story details such daring: when Portuguese Governor to Luanda, Correia de Sousa, didn’t offer Queen (then Princess) Nzinga a chair at formal audience, hoping to force her to stand. Instead, she had one of her servants go on all fours and proceeded to sit on his back during the meeting, astonishing the governor and all present.

The amicable relationship didn’t last long however, as Portugal betrayed her, forcing Nzinga to flee West of present day Luanda, where she founded a new state called Matamba. Here, Nzinga set out to build a formidable kingdom, offering sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers. She designed a military structure known as kilombo, which was made up of former slaves and Portuguese trained African soldiers. The recruits were expected to renounce any familial ties and were raised communally in militias. With this military force, she attempted to take back her kingdom of Ndongo by forming an alliance with the Dutch, but was only temporarily successful. With that defeat, Queen Nzinga focused on growing Matamba to what became a major trading point and gateway to the Central African interior. She continued to resist colonial rule until her death at around the age of 80.

By Edel Were

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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