Queen Ana Nzinga of the Mbundu people of Angola, neé Ana de Sousa Nzinga, is one of Africa’s most prominent monarchs.
Born in 1583 to Kangela and King Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba of the house of the Ndongo, young Ana would go on to become the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms in Angola in the 17th century.
Her name came from the Kimbundu verb “kujinga”, meaning twist or turn, and it was given to her because she was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. According to Ndongo tradition, this meant that she would be a proud and arrogant girl, and her mother was told that she would be queen of the lands one day.
She grew up with a brother, Mbandi, and two sisters, Kifunji and Mukambu. According to her, she was very close to her father, who took her to war and was allowed to watch on as he governed his kingdom; so she could learn how to be a monarch. However, she was born during a very tumultuous era for Angola, as it was being annexed by slave trading Portuguese sailors.
When England and France started to threaten the Portuguese Atlantic Slave trade, they decided to go further down and when they stumbled upon the kingdom, they were incapable of identifying or comprehending anything. In fact, they foolishly mistook the ruler’s title, “ngola”, for the name of the country, and hence dubbed it Angola – its current name.
In 1618, the Portuguese governor Mendes de Vasconcelos had built a fortress on Mbundu soil, as well as having stolen several people in order to cruelly go on and sell them. NgolaMbande, her brother, was in charge of the kingdom at the time and sent her as an envoy to the governor to demand that he immediately leave the lands and return the people he had enslaved, and also to stop hiring Imbangala mercenaries to raid their lands. The Portuguese wanted to force Ngola to become a subject of their lands, tearing apart their legacy. However, Nzinga overwhelmed him at the meeting and managed to secure a treaty granting them their legitimate and fair requests.
However, that was all just a fairy-tale. The cunning Portuguese never intended to honour their words of course, and did nothing that they had agreed to. Moreover, they accused Nzinga of poisoning her brother (who had allegedly committed suicide due to his fruitless effort to defend his lands) and declared that they would continue to violate Mbundu traditions. Nzinga became the regent for his young son Kaza,who had been residing with the Imbangala but was then killed.
In 1641, the now Queen of the Ndongo sent an embassy to the Dutch, who had worked together with the Kingdom of Kongo to conquer Luanda. She sought to punish the Portuguese for their treacherous behaviour and also recover some of the lands she had lost to them. She convinced the Dutch to agree to a deal, and she then moved her capital to the northern realms of her former domain, in Kavanga. The Portuguese had settled in Masangano, forming raiding parties to pillage and terrorize the outlying lands.
In Ngoleme, in 1644, she led an army to victory over the Portuguese, but failed to follow up on her victory and was defeated in 1646. Her sister and personal files were captured, and it was thus that the Portuguese discovered that one of Queen Nzinga’s sisters was working in the Kongo government as a spy. She had been relaying secret Portuguese plans to her sister, and they had been completely unaware of it the whole time. Officially, she was executed, but rumours arose that she’d fled to modern-day Namibia.
With Dutch assistance, Queen Nzinga routed the Portuguese in a great victory in 1647. She pushed on to lay siege to Masango, but the Portuguese had brought a reserve Brazilian force that recaptured Luanda, weakening her power base. She fought the Portuguese invaders well into her 3rd age, but by 1657 she had seen enough of war, and enough of her people suffering.
She reluctantly signed a peace treaty with the Portuguese and focused her attentions of rebuilding her war-torn and starving kingdom. The question of succession was still unresolved, and she was adamant that it should not fall to the Imbangala. In her peace treaty with the Portuguese, she surreptitiously inserted a clause that bound the Portuguese government to the protection of her land’s heritage. She had no son to succed her, and tried to marry into the NgolaKaninifamly, but priests claimed he already had a life and the marriage was not allowed.
She slowly retired from active governance duties, and towards her later years, she would devote most of her remaining energy to helping women bear children free from any cultural or colonial trouble. She would also spend time making sure that children in the kingdom were well-fed and lived healthier lives.
O the 17th of December 1663, Queen Nzinga would die as one of Africa’s most respected monarchs. Without her iron will on the throne, the Portuguese quickly annexed the rest of her nation and expanded their criminal slave trade.
Today, she is widely loved in Angola and women often marry near her statue in Kinaxixi. She is one of, if not the greatest monarch Angola and Africa have ever had.