Queen Nzinga, a renowned African legend, is considered as the greatest figure of African resistance against the European slave trade, she is also the second greatest African heroine after Kandake Amanirenas of Sudan. She lived in the 17th century and for 40 years of her existence, was able to resist the European slave trade.
The Portuguese, sent by the Vatican, arrived in Africa to begin the European slave trade in the 15th century. This led to the destruction of the illustrious Kongo Empire, however, its submissive kingdoms, which includes the Ndongo kingdom were allowed to gain independence.
In 1560, the Portuguese and missionaries sailed towards the South, arrived the banks of River Kwanza and gained entry into Ndongo kingdom which was then ruled by Ngola (King) Kiluanji kbiia Ndambi. The king had doubts, but still received them in his territory, this gave them the chance to study the territory, identify its resources and later come back with an army to destroy it.
Luanda Island was a locality in Ndongo where cowrie shells with which the entire Kongo Empire traded was gotten. Massive raids were conducted by the Europeans, those who survived the raids were chained, made to walk long distances, many who couldn’t bear the sufferings committed suicide with their children, those who arrived the ports alive were practically stacked on boats and ship to lands where they were made to labor, enriching the Europeans by producing sugar, cotton, coffee under the most inhuman conditions. Luanda Island became an important port through which Africans were deported to these unknown lands.
Queen Nzinga was born in 1581 amidst all the turmoil. She was the daughter of Ngola Kiluanji Mbandi and was trained and raised for battle as her father perceived the strength of leadership his daughter possessed on time. She started going to battles with her father as a teenager. She experienced several battles led by her father against the Europeans, the Mbundu people of Ndongo kingdom withdrew as they couldn’t stand the ferocious weapons of the Europeans.
Prince Mbandi who was the only son of four children took over kingdom affairs after the king’s demise and immediately took an offensive stance against the enemy army. Nzinga found his decision hasty, unknown to her, her brother harbored envy against her as he was scared of her influence. Nzinga left the kingdom in despair after Mbandi had her son killed for fear that he would take over the kingdom someday.
Mbandi carried out several attacks against the Portuguese, who ended up defeating him methodically. He had 15,000 of his men killed, his wife was killed and subsequently, in 1618, the Portuguese had 94 of his officers executed. Following the losses, the council of elders persuaded Mbandi to save what they had left and negotiate a peace treaty.
Constrained by the situation, he apologized to Nzinga for the pain he had caused her and assigned her with meeting the Portuguese because she was respected for her strength of character. In 1622, at 41 years old, she set out on the journey that would forever change history.
Sylvia Serbin, a fine African- Carribean historian gave an account of the Angolan princess’ voyage in her book “Reines de l’Afrique et héroïnes de la diaspora noire” She said:
“Carried on a bed by a brigade of swift servants, Zingha, accompanied by an escort of courtiers and an armed detachment, made the trip for a few days. Luanda! What transformations on this territory, snatched from the kingdom of her Fathers! With its European city looks and its churches, the first of which was built in 1505, it was dotted with imposing wooden mansions, housing the new colonial elites, and slave hangars facing the Atlantic.
A twenty-one run of cannon shots thundered, saluting the arrival of the delegation at the city doorstep. The convoy then appeared and triggered enthusiasm clamor among the African crowd, restrained by two columns of Portuguese militia.
Zingha was dressed in a thin velvet raffia loin cloth. A bright colored stole, placed as a scarf on her shoulders, barely covered her chest. Her massive gold crown, set with precious stones, and surmounted by a tuft of multi-colored feathers, formed a small helmet on her head. Everything about her reflected the pride of a great lineage woman”
Princess Nzinga met with the Portuguese government, and wanting to demean her, the governor, sitting on a chair, had a rug placed in front of him for the Princess to seat, on the floor. She would not be intimidated, she cast an authoritative glance at one of her maids, who immediately went on all fours, for the princess to seat to the amazement of the Portuguese.
Nzinga made a spirited defense against the Portuguese, she was able to get them to retreat from Ambaca, and Ndongo was no longer obliged to pay taxes to the settlers. The Princess seized the opportunity to study the Portuguese, their system, even converted to Christianity and was baptized and renamed Ana.
A few months later, the Portuguese government would no longer comply with the agreement, they attacked and this time King Mbadi was defeated. He fled but was assailed by Nzinga’s men, who forced him to commit suicide by self-poisoning, Nzinga avenged her son’s death.
In 5859 of African era, that would be 1623 AD, Nzinga ascended the throne and became the Queen of Ndongo with the title“Ngola Mbandi Nzinga Bandi Kia Ngola” (the queen whose arrow always hit the target). She ascended the throne at 42 years old.
Nzinga was a warrior to be reckoned with, she assaulted the Portuguese with guerilla methods, and with great charisma, she energized her troops, conquering Matamba, which she made the capital city. She was able to penetrate the Portuguese army, by calling the Africans who had been enrolled into the Portuguese army, slaves and convincing them to join her. Through her network, she got information, weapons as well as grew her art of war.
She joined forces with other African kingdoms to fight for the liberation of her people, and in the process, her sister Kifunji was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese army.
At age 66, to the dismay of the missionaries who thought she had been bridled when she converted to Christianity years before, with her army, she confronted 20,000 Portuguese soldiers at the battle of Senga.
When she realized that Portuguese and Dutch settlers were struggling for the control of the slave trade, she formed a coalition with the Dutch, with the intention of attacking them later, and they fell for it.
Through this coalition, she seized the port of Luanda, though it was later taken by the Portuguese from Brazil, she again defeated the Portuguese at the battle of Ilamba at age 67.
At 73, she still walked the forests and savannahs, armed with her rifle. She convinced African soldiers in the Portuguese army to join her by giving them plots of land and strategically attacked the Portuguese in seasons when malaria spreads, having that the Portuguese were not yet accustomed to the seasons.
By the time Nzinga turned 76, the Portuguese were weary of fighting. They finally accepted negotiations and recognized the independence of Matamba and the parts of Ndongo where Nzinga governed.
Ngola Mbandi Nzinga Bandi Kia Ngola is today called the mother of the nation by the Angolan people because she lived a life consecrated to fighting for the liberation of her people from slavery. She died in 1663 at age 82, and Ndongo was only entirely conquered, 8 years after her demise. Angola continued to suffer enslavement thereafter until 1975 when the country attained independence. Of several legendary African royals who fought against African slavery, Ngola Mbandi Nzinga Bandi Kia Ngola is unique because of the lastingness of her fight and her ability to subdue the cataclysm that hunted Africa.