Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, also known as Nzinga Mbandi, Anna Nzinga, and Rainha Ginga, was born in 1583 to the king of Ndongo, a kingdom of the Mbundu people in modern-day Angola.
Nzinga first appears in historical records as the envoy of her brother, Ngola Mbandi, at a peace conference with the Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa in Luanda in 1622. With the death of Ngola Mbandi in 1624 and her election as queen by a faction of the eligible electors from Ngola’s court, Mjinga’s rivals refused to regard her as the legitimate ruler of Ndongo, and they joined with the Portuguese in an attempt to remove her from the throne.
She allied Ndongo with Portugal, and was baptised as Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande with the Portuguese colonial governor serving as her godfather. By doing this she acquired a partner in her fight against her African enemies, and ending Portuguese slave raiding in the kingdom.
The new alliance didn’t last very long, however. Portugal betrayed Ndongo in 1626, and Nzinga was forced to flee when war broke out. Nzinga took over as ruler of the nearby kingdom of Matamba, capturing Queen Mwongo Matamba and routing her army. Nzinga then made Matamba her capital, joining it to the Kingdom of Ndongo.
To build up her kingdom’s martial power, Nzinga offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers. She stirred up rebellion among the people still left in Ndongo, now ruled by the Portuguese. Nzinga also reached out to the Dutch and invited them to join troops with her. She told the Dutch she would be happy to ally with them because of their justice and politeness, whereas the Portuguese were proud and haughty.
Even their combined forces were not enough to drive the Portuguese out, however, and after retreating to Matamba again, Nzinga started to focus on developing Matamba as a trading power and the gateway to the Central African interior.
By the time of Nzinga’s death in 1661 at the age of 81, Matamba was on equal footing with the Portuguese colony. The Portuguese came to respect Queen Nzinga for her shrewdness and intransigence.
With Nzinga’s rule, Matamba became a powerful kingdom that long resisted Portuguese colonisation attempts and was only integrated into Angola in the late nineteenth century.
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