Part 2 - A woman, a warrior and a queen

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Part 2

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In 1624, her brother retired to a small island where he died under strange circumstances. It is not known whether he committed suicide or whether he was poisoned by Njinga as revenge for the murder of her son.

The only certainty is that, despite the opposition of Portugal and of some of her own people, Njinga did something unthinkable at the time: she became the new queen of Ndongo.

“Njinga Mbande serves as an example to counter the speech of submission of African women over time,” says João Pedro Lourenço, director of the National Library of Angola, to BBC World, the BBC service in Spanish.

Some sources say Njinga had a relentless attitude toward becoming queen. For instance, she reportedly sought help from groups of Imbangala warriors who lived on the frontier of the kingdom to frighten rivals and strengthen her position.

After a leadership reaffirmed over the years, Njinga conquered the neighbouring kingdom of Mutamba and actively defended its territories.

Photo by  Katy Belcher  on  Unsplash

Photo by Katy Belcher on Unsplash

“Queen Njinga was not only a great warrior on the battlefield, but also a great strategist and diplomat,” José Eduardo Agualusa, a Portuguese-Brazilian anthropologist and author of the novel Queen Ginga, told the BBC.

Born in Angola when the country was still under Portuguese rule, Agualusa points out that Njinga “fought against Portugal, teaming up with the Dutch when she found it convenient and seeking support from the Portuguese to fight other kingdoms in the area whenever that served their interests.”

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Unique personality

Her reign was long. For 40 years, Njinga personally led a strong opposition against Portuguese attempts to conquer Ndongo through military operations.

Having come to the conclusion that nothing could be done against the power of an elderly queen, Portugal eventually renounced their desire to conquer Ndongo in a treaty ratified in Lisbon, in 1657. The document allowed Njinga to remain in command, if she gave up much of her power.

Njinga died on December 17, 1663. She was 82 years old and had spent half her life leading the resistance against colonial projects that the Europeans wanted to impose on the region.

With her death, Portugal lost its main adversary and began to accelerate the occupation of that area.

Considered a unique personality in the history of Africa, Njinga is an eminent and recognized figure in Angola to this day.

Streets and even schools throughout the country were named after her. Her face is stamped in the 20 kwanzas coin. Njinga also inspired movies, books and was part of a series of publications of Unesco illustrations on historical African women.

According to Lourenço, “Njinga Mbande is an example of a struggle to maintain the sovereignty of the people of Ndongo and of those who make up the Republic of Angola... Today, their example serves to promote the dignity of the Angolan people, the commitment to the nation and the defence of territorial integrity.”

Photo by  Seth Macey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

When asked about the veracity of some of the most remarkable stories surrounding the Queen's life, Agualusa cautions that the biggest mistake is trying to analyze a historical era based on our current beliefs.

“Cruelty was global, Europeans burned people alive, enslaved not only Africans, but also other Europeans; Africans were equally cruel,” reflects the writer.

“In light of our time, Queen Njinga was a despot, but what European king of that time wasn’t?” he finishes.