Ana Nzinga

Female soldier

Queen Ana Nzinga (c. 1583 – December 17, 1663), also known as Njinga Mbande

Remembered for

Her political and diplomatic acumen, as well as her brilliant military tactic. Nzinga defended her kingdom against the Portuguese for 40 years and defeated them.

Her story

According to tradition, she was named Nzinga because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. It was said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would be proud and haughty, and a wise woman told her mother that Nzinga would become queen one day.

At the time, the kingdom of Kongo had been identified by Portuguese missionaries as a prime target for the slave trade. The then king at first worked with the Portuguese to arrange a slave trade — on the condition that they spare his people.

Upon the king’s death, however, the Portuguese saw no reason to continue to honor the arrangement. They proceeded to throw his son in jail and took control of the kingdom.

Nzinga was not content with this situation and started a campaign to destabilise the Portuguese power. She first contacted the Portuguese governor’s office with the intention of demanding the release of Kongolese ‘s people from slavery. During her audience with the governor, it was refused for her to sit on a chair. Nzinga told a servant to get down on the ground to create a perch upon which she could sit. Upon settling onto the servant’s back, Nzinga proceeded to launch into her negotiations.

In 1624, she became Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and was forced to leave the kingdom, during which time her sister became a puppet ruler for the Portuguese also acting as Queen Nzinga’s spy.

By 1629, Queen Nzinga had established a colony within the region, Matamba, from which she hoped to either defeat the Portuguese or to convince them to enter a peace treaty. She made an alliance with Dutch soldiers to cut off slavery route and lobby for the kingdom to take in refugees from the slave trade.

In 1656, Nzinga signed a peace treaty with Portugal and was “re-accepted” in the Church . She converted again to Catholicism in 1657 and played a key role in promoting the religion in her kingdom. After the wars with Portugal ended, she attempted to rebuild her nation, which had been seriously damaged by years of conflict and over-farming.

Nzinga devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children.

She would die a peaceful death at the age of eighty on 17 December 1663 in Matamba. Her death accelerated the Portuguese occupation of the interior of South West Africa, fueled by the massive expansion of the Portuguese slave trade.

Nzinga is one of Africa’s best documented early-modern rulers.