Dona Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande (1583?-1663), better known as Queen Nzinga (sometimes spelled Nzingha or Njinga in English), fought the Portuguese from 1619 to 1657, keeping them from taking over what is now Angola – even though she lacked a steady supply of guns! She was the queen of Ndongo and Matamba, often leading her own men into battle.
Her brother had been the king of Ndongo before her. It was the most powerful Mbundu kingdom – but it had no guns. In 1618, the Portuguese and their Imbangala allies overthrew the capital. They marched its people and many other Mbundu to Luanda on the coast and put them on slave ships (some 20 of them arrived in Virginia in 1619, the beginning of US Black history).
Upon these ashes Queen Nzinga arose.
The Portuguese lacked numbers, but they had four advantages:
- Control of the arms trade – the Portuguese for the most part controlled the trade of guns and ammunition, the most advanced weapons of the time.
- Control of the slave trade – which drained African kingdoms and chiefdoms of manpower while the Portuguese grew rich and fought with slave armies, using Brazil as a base.
- Christianity – which brainwashed enough African leaders to side with the Portuguese, or at least trust them when making peace. It also allowed the Catholic Church to act like the CIA since its priests could travel freely without raising suspicions.
- Divide and conquer – this more than anything accounted for Portuguese success. They played African kings and chiefs off against each other and let them do most of the fighting – aka “tribal” warfare.
The Portuguese were not so much interested in land as in getting a steady supply of slaves from chiefs and kings.
Queen Nzinga counteracted much of this:
- She brought Africans together to fight against the Portuguese and their allies.
- She had her men secretly join the other side – so that whole companies of enemy armies deserted to her side, taking guns and ammunition with them.
- She took guns and ammunition through surprise attacks.
- She made her kingdom a safe haven for runaway slaves, bringing many to her side.
- She was not dependent on the slave trade.
- She did not allow missionaries into her land.
Add to all that the Dutch, who were fighting the Portuguese off and on during this time, further weakening the Portuguese.
She was herself a Christian, at least for a while – Dona Ana de Sousa was her Christian name. But she was not so brainwashed that she did not clearly see what was going on. In fact, she did not easily trust White people – one of her strengths, as it turned out.
Leadership: She was the sort of leader to whom people were deeply loyal, who would fight on even when there seemed no hope other than her bare words. Their deep faith in her was not in vain: even when she lost her kingdom or was thought dead, she came back to win the day.
– Abagond, 2016.
Source: Mainly “The Destruction of Black Civilization” (1987) by Chancellor Williams.
- Welcome to Black Women’s History Month 2016!
- Portuguese Empire
- Songhay Empire
- Swahili civilization