In 1583, with the backdrop of European powers consolidating power and the ascendency of the Atlantic slave trade, a powerhouse queen, Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande was born. The daughter of King ngola Kia Samba and Guenguela Cakombe, and by all accounts was cherished by her father, who trained her on diplomacy, military tactics, and the everyday running of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms in modern day Angola.
In 1622, Nzinga’s first appearance in the historical record in an astonishing and impressive fashion. Her brother, the ruler of the kingdoms at the time, dispatched Nzinga to the peace conference with the Portuguese in Luanda. In a series of meetings with the governor João Correia de Sousa, Nzinga tread a balance between developing commercial trade with Portugal, curtailing slave raids within the kingdoms, and protecting her national interests. Portugal, for their part, were moving inland through Congo and Angola, solidify the acquisition of slaves, and attacked former allies to further their power and commerce.
As a deft political power move, Nzinga noted that only one chair was in the meeting room. She gestured to a servant, who fell to their hands and knees mimicking a chair, and Nzinga sat upon her for the rest of the meeting, placing her on equal stature with Correia. In addition, Nzinga was able to achieve concessions and strengthen her negotiating position by converting to Christianity.
After her brother died under unknown circumstances in 1624, Nzinga was elected queen. Adversaries viewed her election as illegitimate, especially because of her gender and familial connections. These adversaries within her community joined with the Portuguese in attempts to overthrow her and she was driven out of Luanda in 1625, igniting a battle for the kingdom. After her retreat to Matamba to regroup and build alliances with neighboring territories in 1629. During this time, Nzinga accepted refugees of the slave trade.
After these attempts, Nzinga aligned with other African kingdom to thwart the Portuguese alliance, resulting in a 30 year war to fight the Portuguese and the encroaching slave trade. By 1641, Nzinga aligned with the Dutch that finally resulted in a defeat of the Portuguese in 1647. The defeat did not last long, as battles back and forth resulted in gains and losses on both sides. In 1657, the Portuguese and Nzinga renegotiated a peace treaty.
[By Erik Cleves Kristensen (Queen Njinga Mbande) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]
Under her guidance and leadership, Nzinga helped to develop the Angolan kingdoms into thriving commercial centers with formidable, powerful military backing that challenged the encroaching Portuguese empire. Her legacy far outlived her, with her death in 1663. Though the Portuguese rapidly expanded into her kingdoms after her death, she left a legacy of nation building, negotiation, military acumen, and resistance. And her memory ultimately helped her ancestors nearly 300 years later, when the Portuguese were finally expelled from Angola during the post-colonial WWII era.
Featured Image By Achille Devéria. Posteriormente coloreado a mano por un autor desconocido [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons