Black History

In the Spotlight – #7 Queen Nzinga




You may wonder why the picture is so big? I just like it because it shows so much detail. Black people weren’t all just slaves – they were kings and queens of lands already functioning, and working well – until the Europeans ventured in a took what was not theirs….

The name Queen Anna Nzinga probably doesn’t ring a bell at all. I began reading a book called, Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba when Queen Nzinga’s name mentioned and I researched her.

Anna was queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms of the Mbundu people reigning during the 17th century in Angola. Nzinga appears in history during the time when the Atlantic slave trade taking place and the power of the Portuguese in Nzinga’s region was increasing.

During the slave trade era, the Portuguese’s position was under pressure since the British and the French were also very powerful traders in West Africa. To keep their trade alive, the Portuguese made some alterations to where they traded and moved further south to The Congo and modern day Namibia. They also ventured to the land of the Mbundu people which is modern day Angola.

Nzinga was born into a royal lineage in 1583 to parents, King Kiluanji and Kangela. Nzinga was favoured by her father, who may have seen that she’d be fit for ruling the kingdom and allowed her to observe as he governed the land. Nzinga had three other siblings, two sisters and a brother.

Nzinga’s brother, who was king at the time, made an attempt to prompt the Portuguese to withdraw their fortress of Ambaca which had been built in 1617. His efforts were successful. Nzinga’s brother was against the Portuguese expanding their slave trading area in Central Africa. In 1622, Nzinga is sent to attend a peace conference with the Portuguese governor Joao Carreia de Sousa in Luanda in place of her brother.  Already, Nzinga knew that her presence would cause diplomatic tension but she knew the result of not attending the meeting would only cause problems trading with the Portuguese. It would also be difficult being allies and trading major resources such as guns for her kingdom. In the initial meetings with the representative of the Portuguese crown, Nzinga established her equality. There was only one chair in the room which was immediately given to the Portuguese crown – subordinates on the other hand had to sit on the floor. Observing her surroundings, Nzinga motioned to her assistant to serve as a chair for Nzinga for the remainder of the meeting.

Despite the spectacle, Nzinga made compromises with the Portuguese where she converted to Christianity where she urged her brother to convert his kingdom to Christianity.


Nzinga, became queen in 1626 following the death of brother who’d committed suicide after rising Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions. Nzinga was different and made sure those matters didn’t weigh her or her country down. Instead she tactically formed alliance with formal rival states and she led an arm against the Portuguese which lasted 30 years.

Nzinga did was she could to keep her kingdom her own and not ruled by the Europeans. She exploited the Dutch rivalry by forging an alliance with them in 1641. Using their help, Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army 6 years later. The Dutch were defeated by the Portuguese a year later and withdrew from Central Africa all together. Nzinga continued to get the Portuguese to resign from the land. They remained for many centuries, until the Portuguese resigned and Angola was made an independent state in1975.

Though being hated and wanted and killed by her rivals, Queen Nzinga died in her 80s in 1663.




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