Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

NZINGA, QUEEN OF ANGOLA
(ca. 1580-1663)

Angola
Queen and Military Leader

In the early seventeenth century, through a combination of ruthlessness and cleverness, Queen Nzinga was able to consolidate power in the Kimbundu territory of Ndongo and Matamba (what is now Angola) in Northwest Africa. Although often perceived as an outsider by Africans as well as Europeans because of her gender, she was able to manipulate her enemies and gather other outsiders around her to gain support to rule effectively. At times she supported the slave trade from Africa to the Americas, but she also sometimes protected escaped slaves, who would then be loyal to her. She was a consummate politician and warrior queen so greatly beloved she was known as the "Black Mother."

Before she became queen, she negotiated with the Portuguese on behalf of her brother, who was King of Ndongo, and then later ruled in her own name and with the aid of the Dutch and African allies revolted against the Portuguese, who were ruling this part of Africa as a province in the seventeenth century. Through her shifting alliances with the Portuguese, the Dutch, and other African tribes, she was able to consolidate her power to become successively the monarch of Ndongo and Matamba. She ruled in one part or another of the Kimbundu territory from 1624 to 1663. Both friends and enemies perceived her as a shrewd negotiator and a fierce warrior, and she was able to provide her people the Ndongo with a degree of political unity. The Portuguese referred to the people of the region as "Jingas," after her name.

Nzinga was the emissary of her brother, or possibly half brother, Ngola Mbandi, King of Ndongo, who had sent her to negotiate with the Portuguese governor in Luanda after being defeated in battle. One of the ways Portuguese officials attempted to assert their authority and superiority was that when the governor received an African ruler or diplomat, he sat but did not furnish a chair for his

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