Just your ordinary Princess to Queen tale: born into a royal family, rose to power, protected her people and country for generations with little more than her bravery, wits, bow and arrow and gallons of blood spilled and some, perhaps, consumed.
The only way that the story of Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamaba is like a lot of Princess to Queen tales–it’s full of fact and fabrication. The truth is that there are so many versions out there that the details of her life are a little muddled. We do know that Nzinga was a warrior queen who held back Portuguese colonization and slave trade in her African kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba in the 1600s.
Her father was Ngola (king) Kiluanji; her mother, Kangela, was formerly enslaved, turned second wife of Kiluanji and the mother of Nzinga and (at least) two sisters. Kiluanji came to power as the Portuguese were invading Africa and Nzinga’s childhood was spent in a country at war, although she was fairly protected at court. She learned the traditional work of women but also something a little unusual but necessary: how to speak and write Portuguese AND quite a bit of “boy” lessons: hunting, trapping, shooting…and warfare and diplomacy. She did have an older half-brother who was the rightful heir, but her father saw something in Nzinga that led him to take her under his wing for some lessons in ruling.
When her father died her brother take over…did a few horrific things like have Nzinga’s son killed…until her brother died and Nzinga put her spear in her hand and called herself Queen of Ndongo. Oh yes, we do know a little bit more and we go into it in the podcast–what the Ndongo culture was like, a Slave Trade 101 history lesson and some of the more provable parts of how she came to power and stayed there. But we also dive into a lot of the legend, mostly because it’s a really amazing story: she did what to her concubines? She ate what when she went into battle? The Imbangala warrior bands made her do what?
Nzinga maintained control of her country of Ndongo (and, Matamba–the one she took by force), kept many of her people from being captured and traded as slaves, offered refuge to anyone who needed it and used every move at her disposal (including shifting alliances, religions and some pretty gruesome tactics) to rule for almost 40 years. 40 YEARS of war (and a really impressive wardrobe, but that would be silly and frivolous to spotlight when she did so many seriously powerful things.)
(We totally spotlighted it.)
Nzinga died peacefully in her sleep on December 17th, 1663 at the age of 82. When she did, Portugal moved in and the her kingdoms were incorporated into modern day Angola–although there would be another 300 years of brutal and ugly history before the Portuguese rule finally ended in 1974.
Time Travel with the History Chicks
This whole series is excellent, short introductions to African women you should know!
Surely you know all about Rejected Princesses, right? Nzinga is only one of the maaaany women who probably won’t have a Disney movie…but should.
Njinga – Rainha de Angola trailer…”teaser” would be a better word since neither of us could find the movie to watch.
What’s for supper? Toasted termites? Didn’t your mom teach you to try something before you make that face? Here is a list of 11 Edible Insects for when you are feeling adventurous. Or hungry. Or want to dare someone.
Maybe you’ll find something tastier at Nzinga’s Breakfast Cafe in Durham, NC? (We’ve never been, but would totally give it a try if we were there. Been? Give us your review on our Facebook or Twitter)
The field is really wide open to use any of the (20 plus) versions of her name, but here is how one Nzingha is ruling her field! Fencer Nzingha Prescod, via ESPN (maybe the only ESPN link we will ever give you. Maybe.)
And, finally, here are some of the names/spellings out there for her:
Nzinga, Nzingha, Jinga, Ginga, Zhinga, Njinga, Njingha,Zinga, Zingua, Ann Nzinga, Nxingha, Mbande Ana Nzinga, Nzinga Mbonde/i, Dona Ana de Sousa, Lady of Ndongo, Ngola Nzinga…
End song, Angola Avante (National Anthem), learn more about it here!