Queen Anna Nzinga was a powerful and astute queen who governed the Angolan Mbundu kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba in the 17th century. She played a significant role in liberating her kingdoms from the Portuguese and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa. She was the sister of Ngola (King) Mbande, who had sent her to negotiate peace with the Portuguese as his representative. She demonstrated her skill and delicacy in negotiating on equal terms. She converted to Catholicism and took the name Dona Anna de Sousa to bolster the treaty with the Portuguese. However, Portugal did not honor the terms of the treaty, which led to her brother’s suicide. Consequently, she became the guardian of his infant son, Kaza. Allegedly, she murdered Kaza for lack of caution. She then seized power and forged alliances with formerly antagonistic states and the Dutch to launch a thirty-year war against the Portuguese.
Youth and Early Existence
She was born in the Portuguese colony of Angola around 1583 to Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba and Guenguela Cakombe. Her father ruled the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba. Her sisters were Kifunji and Mukambu, while her brother, Mbandi, was the illegitimate offspring of her father.
She was one of the favorite daughters of her father. Her father gave her administrative experience and also led her to battle. When her father was dethroned in the 1610s, Mbandi assumed power while she was forced to flee the kingdom because she posed a threat to the throne.
Initial Participation with the Portuguese
On January 25, 1576, with the permission of the then-ruler (Angola) of Ndongo, Ndambi, the Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias de Novais founded Luanda as “So Paulo da Assumpço de Loanda” and settled approximately one hundred families and four hundred soldiers.
Mbandi, ruler of Matamba and brother of Nzinga, and heir to Ndambi revolted against the Portuguese in 1618. In conjunction with the Imbangalas, the forces of governor Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos attacked the Ndongo capital, defeated Mbandi, and killed a number of Ndongo dynasty nobles.
Bento Cardoso, a Portuguese official, established a tribute for servitude in 1608. The Portuguese anticipated receiving captives as tribute from the conquered African kingdoms.
The Return of Nzinga to the Kingdom
In 1617, Nzinga was summoned back to the kingdom by Mbandi, who wanted her to negotiate Ndongo’s independence with the Portuguese. In 1622, as directed by Mbandi, Nzinga met with the Portuguese administrator of Luanda, Joo Correia de Sousa, and proposed a peace treaty. The delegates were so impressed by Nzinga’s political and diplomatic acumen, tact, and self-assurance that the governor was compelled to accept her terms, resulting in a treaty of equal terms.
According to legend, the Portuguese governor arranged a floor mat for her to recline on during the negotiations, while he himself sat in a chair. According to Mbundu custom, this was insulting because it was reserved for subordinates. As such a disgraceful gesture was untenable to Nzinga, she instructed a servant to kneel on the ground and then sat on the servant’s back to continue the negotiations.
In 1622, she converted to Catholicism and took the name Dona Anna de Sousa in honor of the governor’s wife, who also served as her godmother. She likely took action to strengthen the peace treaty with the Portuguese.
Queen’s Taking Influence
The peace treaty was never honored by the Portuguese, who continued to acquire slaves and precious goods through raids. Mbandi committed suicide in 1624, unable to control this diplomatic impasse and assuming he would never regain what he had lost in the war.
According to many, Nzinga poisoned her sibling. The Portuguese, who wanted to prevent her from succeeding her brother, supported this theory. She became the regent for Kaza, the son of her sibling. It is alleged that she also murdered Kaza for his arrogance.
A portion of the court of Ngola’s eligible electors chose her as monarch. However, her rivals refused to acknowledge her as a legitimate Ndongo ruler and sided with the Portuguese to dethrone her. Hari, a Ndongo who was later christened Felipe I and became a Portuguese vassal, combined forces with members of the Kasanje Kingdom and Ndongo nobles and expelled her from Luanda, after which she fled to Milemba Angola.
After suffering a defeat in 1625, she had to retreat to the east with her forces. The Portuguese installed her sister Kifunji as a puppet monarch, but she remained loyal to Nzinga and spied on him for several years.
During her time in the Matamba territory in 1629, Nzinga was able to successfully regroup and reinforce her forces. She also offered refuge to fugitive slaves. After the death of Matamba’s female chief in the 1630s, she moved on and seized authority in Matamba.
Agreement with the Dutch
In 1641, the Dutch occupied Luanda in conjunction with the Kingdom of Kongo, after which Nzinga allied with the Dutch to fight the Portuguese. She moved her capital to Kavanga in anticipation of regaining lost territories with the help of the Dutch. In 1644, the Portuguese army was defeated by Nzinga at Ngoleme.
In 1646, she was defeated by the Portuguese at Kavanga, and her sister was captured along with her archives. This revealed not only her relationship with Kongo but also the fact that Kifunji was eavesdropping on her and had passed on Portuguese secrets. While some sources claim that the Portuguese drowned Kifunji in the Kwanza River, others assert that she escaped to modern-day Namibia.
Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army at the “Battle of Kombi” in 1647 with the assistance of Dutch reinforcements. This victory prompted siege operations against Muxima, Masangano, and Ambaca. However, these sieges were largely unsuccessful due to a paucity of artillery. After the forces of Salvador de Sá e Benevides arrived the following year, she was constrained to abandon the siege and return to her Matamba headquarters.
Queen Nzinga’s Last Decades
In 1656, the church reinstated her membership. She reverted to Catholicism the following year and promoted churches in her dominion with the Capuchins. In 1657, the Portuguese also requested that she draft a new peace treaty.
Concerned about her potential successor, Nzinga inserted a clause into the treaty obligating Portugal to assist her family in maintaining power. With the end of conflicts with Portugal, Nzinga is redeveloping her country, which was severely damaged by years of conflict and over-farming. She also attempted to rehabilitate former slaves.
Numerous unsuccessful attempts to remove her from the throne were attempted, particularly by Kasanje. Nzinga passed away in Matamba on December 17, 1663, at the age of 80. After her passing, civil strife broke out; Francisco Guterres Ngola Kanini continued the royal line. Her death also heightened Portuguese aggression within South West Africa’s interior. In 1671, Ndongo became a part of Portuguese Angola.
Queen Nzinga’s Legacy
Nzinga is still revered in Angola as a political and diplomatic sage who possessed ingenious military strategies and fought oppression with all her might. To commemorate the 27th anniversary of independence, the then-President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, erected her statue in a Kinaxixi square in 2002.
A prominent street in Luanda also bears her name. Numerous Angolan women marry in the vicinity of the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. The National Reserve Bank of Angola issued a series of commemorative coins in his honor (BNA). Based on her biography, the 2013 Angolan film “Nzinga, Queen of Angola” was made.
Estimated Net Worth
Using ‘History of Zangua, Queen of Angola’ (1687) by missionary Giovanni Cavazzi da Montecuccolo as a source, Marquis de Sade mentions in his 1795 book ‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’ that the queen had an all-male harem. These males, known as chibados, donned women’s clothing and were executed after one night of sexual activity with her.