On December 17, the world marked the anniversary of the death of Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, who left behind a grand legacy.
Born around the 1580s in a Portuguese settlement in Angola, she was named Nzinga because she was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Traditionally, it was believed a child born this way would grow up to the proud, wise, and very powerful.
She grew up watching her father rule and became invested in the struggle of her people. She had the front seat to the fluctuating power dynamics in the kingdom and it was no surprise that she took over when her brother died. Rumours are that either her brother committed suicide or she killed him in order to become queen. Others claim that she killed her brother’s heir after her brother died.
As the new queen, she re-negotiated with the Portuguese in order to ward off the attack from Portuguese and neighbouring African aggressors. She made Ndongo a Portuguese ally and converted to Christianity. She was baptised Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande with the colonial governor standing in as her godfather.
The deal she entered with Portugal did not last long and she was forced to flee. She headed to Matamba and took over from Queen Mwongo Matamba. Nzinga then joined Matamba and Ndongo.
She consolidated her power by providing a sanctuary to runaway slaves and soldiers trained by the Portuguese. She successfully caused an uprising in Ndongo, which was under Portuguese rule.
Working on her strategy to defeat Portugal, she formed an alliance with the Dutch, who had taken over Luanda. The battle between Nzinga-led army and Portugal went on over well into Nzinga’s sixties.
However, weary of the struggle, she signed a new peace treaty and focused on rebuilding her kingdoms. By her death in 1661, Nzinga then 81, had brought Matamba on equal footing with the Portuguese colony.
She is remembered today for her fight against oppression. To honour her, there is a major street in Luanda named after her, and the National Reserve Bank of Angola issued tribute coins to the queen. In 2013, a film called Nzinga, the Queen of Angola featured her life story.