Queen Nzinga Mbande, The Warrior
Updated: Feb 25
Nzinga Mbande (1583–1663) was Queen of the Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo (1624–1663) and Matamba (1631–1663), located in present-day northern Angola. Born into the ruling family of Ndongo, Nzinga received military and political training as a child, and she demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises as an ambassador to the Portuguese Empire. kingdoms after the death of her father and brother, who both served as kings. She ruled during a period of rapid growth in the African slave trade and encroachment of the Portuguese Empire into South West Africa, in attempts to control the slave trade.
In the years following her death, Nzinga has become a historical figure in Angola. She is remembered for her intelligence, her political and diplomatic wisdom, and her brilliant military tactics.
Today, she is remembered in Angola as the Mother of Angola, the fighter of negotiations, and the protector of her people. She is still honoured throughout Africa as a remarkable leader and woman, 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. Queen Nzinga ultimately managed to shape her state into a form that tolerated her authority, though surely the fact that she survived all attacks on her and built up a strong base of loyal supporters helped as much as the relevance of the precedents she cited. While Nzinga had obviously not overcome the idea that females could not rule in Ndongo during her lifetime, and had to 'become a male' to retain power, her female successors faced little problem in being accepted as rulers. The clever use of her gender and her political understandings helped lay a foundation for future leaders of Ndongo today. In the period of 104 years that followed Nzinga’s death in 1663, queens ruled for at least eighty of them. Queen Nzinga is a leadership role model for all generations of Angolan women. Women in Angola today display remarkable social independence and are found in the country’s army, police force, government, and public and private economic sectors. Queen Nzinga was embraced as a symbol of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola during civil war.
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."
An Angolan film, Njinga: Queen Of Angola, was released in 2013.
"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 labour of others, murdered her brother and his children, fought other African people on behalf of the Portuguese, and collaborated in the slave trade."