Queen Nzinga: The Portuguese sold her people into slavery – so she went to war
Queen Nzinga is one of several groundbreaking women featured in our coloring book
Queen Nzinga saw the white man come to Africa and take shares of her land. Not only did he take shares of her land, but he kidnapped her people into a life of slavery overseas, in what the white man called “the new world”. She swore to fight the Portuguese conqueror until her last breath, to prevent them from turning her people into slaves. And so she did. From the day she was born until she died at the age of 80, she dedicated her life to protecting her people from the slave trade and the Portuguese conquerors. The battles she led against the Portuguese were among the few successful rebellions of African cultures against European conquerors.
In the 15th century, the European (mainly the Spanish and Portuguese) began to flock to Africa as if in a gold rush. And indeed, the Spanish and Portuguese found treat: an African population that made them fortunes when they were captured and sold into slavery. And so colonies of Spaniards and Portuguese emerged along the Western coast of Africa, colonies that became the foundation for taking over countries and slave trade transit stations.
This was the background Nzinga was born into, as the daughter of a king in modern Angola in 1583. Her father was Ngola Kia Samba and the Portuguese called his kingdom Ngola, and later Angola. The name stuck and remains to this day.
She was known for her intelligence from an early age, and her father took her to battles and important discussions. She quickly became one of his closest advisors.
When her father passed away and her brother took the reigns, Nzinga received an important mission: to lead her kingdom’s diplomatic mission, called Ndonga and Matamba, to reach a peace settlement agreement with the Portuguese.
Joao Correia de Sousa, the head of the Portuguese delegation, wanted to humiliate the African delegation. When Nzinga arrived at the meeting place, she found the entire Portuguese delegation sitting down, but not one single seat reserved for her or anyone else in the African delegation.
Without thinking twice, one of her maids bent down and served as a human chair for Nzinga throughout the meeting.
Nzinga succeeded in her goal: A peace treaty was signed, which kept her people safe from the slave trade.
Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese didn’t keep their word for long. Not long after, they attacked the kingdom again. During these battles, her brother was killed and the kingdom was passed on to Nzinga.
She led her army and initially managed to reap successes on the battlefield and inflicted heavy losses on the Portuguese. In 1625, however, her army was defeated, and she fled to the mountains. There she made an alliance with the Dutch, who wanted to weaken Portuguese control in Africa, to enter into the lucrative slave trade themselves.
The battles were long and hard, and her sister, who had been serving as a spy and mediator between Nzinga in the mountains and the going-on in the kingdom, was killed during battles. Both sides suffered great losses, and eventually, a peace treaty was signed, ensuring the independence of Ndongo and Matamba and ensuring that her people will be left out of the slave trade.
After the war ended, Nzinga helped escaped slaves settle in the kingdom and rehabilitate. Under her management, the kingdom became an important economic axis on the west coast of Africa, a kingdom whose economic power was equal to that of the Portuguese colonies in the region.
She passed away in 1663, at the age of 80. She is still known as one of the most important queens in Africa’s history. The rebellion she led against Portugal was one of the only successful battles led by African cultures against European conquerors. Today, streets and statues in her name are found throughout Angola, especially in its capital, Luanda.
Click here for the groundbreaking women coloring book, which includes Queen Nzinga