Queen Nzinga a Mbande, also known as Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande, rose to power as the leader of the Mbundu, an ethnic group of what is known as modern-day Angola. Queen Nzinga lived during the period of the Atlantic slave trade and the rise of Portuguese traders in her region. She was known as an intelligent military strategist and strong opponent to the trading of slaves in her homeland and saw herself as an equal to male leaders even though they looked down on her because of gender.
Queen Nzinga lived in the shadow of her father, a warrior named Ndambi Kiluanji and also the “ngola” or king of the Ndongo tribe and territories in 1583 (some records say 1582, however). Her mother, Kangela, was the king’s second wife and a captive from another tribe.
Because Kangela was not fit for royalty, Kiluanji married his first wife to please his powerful mother as she plotted to gain him the throne. Eventually, though, Kiluanji would marry Kangela in protest.
Nzinga, who was given her name because of the umbilical cord that wrapped around her neck when she was born, would often accompany her father during times of war. Although her father’s first wife bore him a son, he did not live up to royal expectations. On the other hand, Nzinga excelled where her older brother didn’t, even though she was held back because of her gender.
As Portuguese traders invaded the coast of Angola, Nzinga’s father led the Ndongo tribes to war in rebellion. Other Mbundu tribes made deals with the traders, weakening the people overall. Trained in the art of warfare by her father and his men, Nzinga fought alongside her people and fell in love with a fellow royal tribesman. The pair had a son, but Nzinga’s husband would die later in battle. As a widow, she still fought for her people despite the grief.
When her father died, her brother, Mbandi, became king but he was unfit for rule. In 1622, and as depicted in a famous painting, Mbandi sent his sister on a diplomacy mission with Portuguese governor Joao Corria de Sousa to end the fighting between his people and her tribe. Sousa offered Nzinga a mat, and as the drawing shows, she ordered a servant to offer his back as she sat on level with the governor (pictured above).
Because of the odds she and her people faced, she agreed to adopt Christianity as her faith and urged her brother to spread the religion to their people. She also reluctantly agreed to trade with the Portuguese — but only to ease the suffering of the tribe.
In 1626, King Mbandi committed suicide due to the pressures of the Portuguese forces. Becoming the queen, Nzinga was fiercely determined to liberate her people and not relinquish control.
She would form alliances with other armies, including the Dutch in 1641. Queen Nzinga and the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1647, although the Dutch would later succumb to Portuguese forces.
Nzinga would personally lead the forces in to battle, even though she was well in to her 60s during the 30-year war with the Portuguese.
Even after her death, the guerrilla forces she led still carried out attacks on the enemy years after her death on this date in 1663.
Queen Nzinga’s gallant efforts served as an inspiration to the 14-year Angolan War Of Independence that took place between 1961 and 1974, with the country gaining its freedom from Portuguese rule in 1975. Although she did cater to the oppressive Portuguese government in many regards, Queen Nzinga undoubtedly operated as best she could in a time of hopelessness for her people.