Before princess Nzinga was queen, her brother was monarch of Ndongo while she served as ambassodor. In 1622, she led a delegation to Luanda for a peace conference with the Portuguese. The treaty that was born out of this conference was supposed to end the fighting, but after the negotiations the Portuguese again invaded Kongo.
After Nzinga’s brother died, she became queen of Ndongo in 1623. She took advantage of the distraction provided by the arrival of the Dutch fleet. The Dutch represented a threat to the Portuguese because they were eager to secure their share of the African slave trade, and of the mineral wealth of west and central Africa.
Queen Nzinga allied herself with the unreliable and warlike Jaga. She used this time to build up her strength for the inevitable showdown with the Portuguese. These preparations show the strength of Nzinga’s character as well as her dedication to her people. She not only wanted the Portuguese out of Africa, she wanted to bring an end to the abominable institution of slavery.
“Nzinga’s greatest act, however, probably the one that makes her one of the greatest women in history, was in 1624 when she declared all territory in Angola over which she had control as free country, all slaves reaching it from whatever quarter were forever free.”
A common tactic of white people has been, and is, to use black police and soldiers against black people. Queen Nzinga was likely the first and only black leader in history to launch a carefully organized effort to undermine this tactic. Nzinga had carefully selected groups of her own soldiers infiltrate the Portuguese black armies by pretending to be defectors. Nzinga’s agents were so effective that whole companies rebelled against the Portuguese, and rallied to join the queen. With them, they brought much needed weapons and supplies. Previously, these things could only be obtained through swift hit-and-run type attacks and ambushes of enemy units. Her armies were also strengthened by the endless streams of runaway slaves searching for freedom.
The fighting between Queen Nzinga and the Portuguese was fierce. In 1626 the Queen attacked the Portuguese as they were marshalling their forces against her. However, the Portuguese went on to capture her main stronghold in the Cuanza river. An encirclement cut her off from her supporting units forcing her to withdraw from the country. Nzinga returned to the country in 1627 at the head of a strong army. She overran the Portuguese and their black puppets, and recaptured the Cuanza stronghold. The solidarity, patriotism, and fanatical devotion of the people made the Queen’s army stronger, and made internal subversion almost impossible.
The Portuguese retreated after this defeat. However, they returned with stronger forces for an all-out war to destroy Nzinga. As an added incentive, the Portuguese promised their black troops land and freedom if she was captured. The Portuguese plans were preempted when Nzinga faked her own death. But, the euphoria did not last long. In 1629, the Portuguese were horrified when Nzinga, along with her Jaga allies, returned from the grave bowling over all opposition before her. The Portuguese defeat allowed the Queen to retake her country. Furthermore, in her absence, she had become queen of Matamba. She was now an empress!
In 1656, after four decades of war, a treaty was finally signed. The Queen then busily set about reconstructing her empire. An economy that could thrive without the slave trade was developed, and ex-slaves were resettled. However, after her passing in 1663 another great leader failed to emerge, and Angola eventually fell to the Portuguese. This marked the beginning of three hundred years of one of the most brutal and sadistic chapters of white supremacy in Africa.
I love Nzinga for what she did. Always remember her in your meditations, your rituals and when you speak to our children, because we will have to call on her spirit for strength and wisdom if we are to continue the fight against white supremacy today.
Rest in peace my Queen, and guide my sword to my enemy’s heart.