Nzingha was a 16th century West African warrior queen that saved her people from Portugese enslavement.

Nzingha was born in 1582 in present-day Angola, West Africa.

[Note: The name for the kings of Matamba was "Ngola," or "N'gola," from which the Portuguese derived the name by which the country is still known to this day.]

She was the eldest daughter of the Mbundu African people of Ndongo king, Ngola Ndambi Kiluanji and his favorite wife Kangela. Kangela was a jaga, or "outsider", even though she was the king's most loved wife. Thus, as was royal custom, Ndambi Kiluanji took another official wife, though her name is unknown, who would be "proper" in the public eye. This union produced the king a proper heir named Mbandi in approximately 1579. Nzingha's brother Mbandi took over the throne after their father died, but went insane and soon after died. Some scholars believe that Nzingha poisoned her brother in order to take over the Ngola position herself, while others believe that the story has no validity, and say it was made up to discredit Nzingha. Reasons for her lack of popularity among some Angolan clans include the fact that she was an empowered woman in a male-dominated society; also, her non-royal lineage may have worked against her because of her jaga mother.

[Note: The Mbundu trace lineage by the mother's family.]

The Mbundu people faced oppression and slavery by the Portuguese, and Nzingha refused to see her beloved people in chains. According to Portuguese slave trade records and scholars' speculations, based on the Bantu language spoken by the prisoners roughly seven in ten Africans brought to the Charleston, South Carolina trade port came from the Angola, Africa region. This merely illustrates that, contrary to popular belief, slave traders did not often randomly attack native villages, take their inhabitants prisoner, and sell them in the Americas as slaves; instead, tribal leaders commonly sold their enemies into slavery. The Portuguese offered Nzingha peace between them and her beloved people if she would supply them a steady flow of slaves. Nzingha heartily refused, and harbored runaway slaves to build up her army to fight against the Portuguese. Along with her two sisters, one of whom succumbed to battle wounds, Nzingha made it her life's mission to save her people from Portuguese oppression and slavery. Purportedly there was an incident in the Luanda Portuguese court where, in an attempt to show dominion over her, a European leader did refused Nzingha a seat, expecting her to sit on the floor. (Luanda was the seat of Portuguese colonial administration, and a prime slave trading port). In a show of clever strategy, Nzingha motioned for a slave to come forward and, having him rest on all fours, used him as a bench, putting her at a position equal to that of the Portuguese.

Despite her friendship with Portuguese priest Father Giovanni Gavazzi, Nzingha harbored a lifelong distrust and resentment toward the Portuguese for attempting to enslave the Mbundu. In what many consider to be a cunning move to lure the Portuguese into believing that she was assimilating to their culture, she accepted Christianity and was baptized as Doña Ana de Sousa, in honor of the Portuguese governor Fernando João Carreida de Sousa. Those who knew her say that she was baptized to honor Father Giovanni, and to establish herself with the Portuguese as a leader; there is no evidence that Nzingha practiced Christianity as her primary religion. She was known, even among the Portuguese, as being a skilled and brave warrior. One of her adversaries wrote that she was “a cunning and prudent virgo ... so generously valient that she never hurt a Portuguese after quarter was given and commanded all her servants and soldiers alike."

Nzingha died on December 17, 1663 after fighting a lifelong battle for the freedom of her people. She was buried clutching her arrows, her bow over her shoulder, and laid on a leopard skin.

McKissack, Patricia . Nzingha, Warrior Queen of Matamba. 1st ed. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2000.

"Nzingha." August 1997. University of California Berkeley. 26 Jul 2004.

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