Who Was Queen Anna Nzinga?

African Warrior Queen

Queen Nzinga
Queen Nzinga, seated on a kneeling man, receives Portuguese invaders.

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Anna Nzinga was born the same year that the Ndongo people, led by her father, Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba, began fighting against the Portuguese who were raiding their territory for slaves and attempting to conquer land they believed included silver mines.

When Anna Nzinga's brother, Mbandi, deposed his father, he had Nzinga's child murdered. She fled with her husband to Matamba. Mbandi's rule was cruel, unpopular, and chaotic.

In 1623 he asked Nzinga to return and negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese. Nzinga mustered a royal impression as she approached the negotiations. The Portuguese arranged the meeting room with only one chair, so Nzinga would have to stand, making her appear to be the inferior of the Portuguese governor. But she outsmarted the Portuguese and had her maid kneel, creating a human chair and an impression of power.

Nzinga succeeded in this negotiation with the Portuguese governor, Correa de Souza, restoring her brother to power, and the Portuguese agreed to limits on the slave trade. Around this time, Nzinga was baptized as a Christian, taking the name Dona Anna de Souza.

Becoming Queen

In 1633, Nzinga had her brother killed and became ruler. The Portuguese named her the governor of Luanda, and she opened her land to Christian missionaries and to the introduction of whatever modern technologies she could attract.

By 1626, she had resumed the conflict with the Portuguese, pointing to their many treaty violations. The Portuguese established one of Nzinga's relatives as a puppet king (Phillip) while Nzinga's forces continued to harass the Portuguese.

She found allies in some neighboring peoples, and Dutch merchants, and conquered and became ruler of the Matamba (1630), continuing a resistance campaign against the Portuguese.

In 1639, Nzinga's campaign was successful enough that the Portuguese opened peace negotiations, but these failed. The Portuguese found increasing resistance, including the Kongo and the Dutch as well as Nzinga, and by 1641 had pulled back considerably.

In 1648 new troops arrived and the Portuguese began to succeed, so Nzinga opened peace talks which lasted for six years. She was forced to accept Philip as ruler and the actual Portuguese power in Ndongo but was able to maintain her dominance in Matamba and to maintain Matamba's independence from the Portuguese.

Nzinga died in 1663, at the age of 82, and was succeeded by Barbara, her sister in Matamba. Her rule did not last long. Angola did not become independent of Portuguese authority until 1974.