Queen Nzinga Mbande of Mbundu

Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande), the monarch of the Mbundu people, is one of the most well-known Afrrican rulers who fought against the Portuguese and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa, and ruled completely in her own right her lands to the astonishment of the European powers who had no idea that women in African society could wield such power openly as the ruling monarch.

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During the late 16th Century, the French and the English threatened the Portuguese near monopoly on the sources of slaves along the West African coast, forcing it to seek new areas for exploitation.  By 1580 they had already established a trading relationship with Afonso I in the nearby Kongo Kingdom. They then turned to Angola, south of the Kongo.  Initially, she was sent by her brother, then King Mbande, to negotiate with the Portuguese where she realized that her people were in a diplomatically awkward situation.

In what has become one of the most famous diplomatic meetings of all time the queen, in the first of a series of meetings with the invaders sought to establish her equality with the representative of the Portugal crown.  Noting that the only chair in the room belonged to Governor Corria, she immediately motioned to one of her assistants who fell on her hands and knees and served as a chair for Queen Nzinga for the rest of the meeting, thus establishing her royal prerogative and puissance to the Portuguese, who as you can imagine, were suitably impressed.

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 Nzinga, who was not yet queen in her own right, knew of events in the Kongo which had led to Portuguese domination of the nominally independent nation.  She also recognized, however, that to refuse to trade with the Portuguese would remove a potential ally and the major source of guns for her own state, which was at war.

In 1626 Nzinga became Queen of the Mbundu when her brother committed suicide in the face of rising Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions.  Nzinga, however, refused to allow them to control her nation.  In 1627, after forming alliances with former rival states, she led her army against the Portuguese, initiating a thirty-year war against them.  She exploited European rivalry by forging an alliance with the Dutch who had conquered Luanda in 1641. With their help, Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army in 1647.  When the Dutch were in turn defeated by the Portuguese the following year and withdrew from Central Africa, Nzinga continued her struggle against the Portuguese.  Now in her 60s she still personally led troops in battle.   She also orchestrated guerilla attacks on the Portuguese which would continue long after her death and inspire the ultimately successful 20th Century armed resistance against the Portuguese that resulted in independent Angola in 1975.

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Despite repeated attempts by the Portuguese and their allies to capture or kill Queen Nzinga, she died peacefully in her eighties on December 17, 1663.

This person is another example of the remarkable women who have greatly affected the destiny of the African continent.  Imagine if she had a daughter who had been raised in the use of power as she had, and her daughter in turn had done the same with own daughter.  Perhaps, through their example the entire African continent would have retained the heart and the will to resist the invaders as Queen Nzinga did so ably.

Next up… The Amazons of Black Sparta



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