Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamb was a 17th century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in southwestern Africa.
A legendary figure in history, Nzinga was born with her umbilical cord around her neck and survived. It was a belief that these children would grow up to be proud, haughty, and headstrong individuals. It was predicted by a wise woman that Nzinga would one day become a queen. She was favored by her father and he would let her observe the workings of his kingdom and how to govern his people. He would bring her along into battle to learn war, politics, and defense first hand.
Once she had come to power she met face-to-face with European invaders and worked tirelessly to stop the slave trades in her kingdom and was successful on some occasions. Being such a bold and no-nonsense “heathen” woman, she struck fear into the hearts of her enemies at the time.
One of the most famous stories involves a Portuguese governor insisting she sit on a mat at his feet rather than in a chair to discuss a treaty. She would not tolerate being treated like a subordinate, so she ordered one of her servants to get down on all fours so she could sit down on his back and be eye-to-eye, thus equal to the governor.
This story led to more stories of her owning a large male harem, watching the men fight to the death to spend the night with her, only to have the winner killed the next morning. Lastly, she supposedly indulged in cannibalism to intimidate neighboring tribes and potential enemies.
As she fell from power without an heir to her throne, she still worked to resettle former slaves and give women back the right to bear children. Though many had attempted to dethrone her, she died peacefully at age 80 and her legacy still lives on.
Today, she is remembered in Angola for her political and diplomatic acumen, great wit and intelligence, as well as her brilliant military tactics. In time, Portugal and most of Europe would come to respect her. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.
Nzinga was awesome. It’s just too bad she’s so often overshadowed and ignored.