The African queen who led the resistance against the Portuguese and became a symbol: part 1

This material is from BBC Brazil, source:

Part 1

Marcos González Díaz BBC World


Books define her as a brave and intelligent warrior who became one of the key figures in the resistance of African peoples against colonialism in the 17th century.

But there are also those who describe her as a cruel woman who would have had the guts to end her brother's life to seize power.

The exploits and legends surrounding the life of Queen Njinga (also known as Jinga or Nzinga) of Angola are as fascinating and unknown to many, especially outside the African continent.

Although her story divides opinions, historians agree that she was one of the most famous African women for her fervent struggle against European occupation and the enslavement of her people for four decades.

Njinga Mbandi was the leader of the Mbundu people and queen of Ndongo and Matamba, in southwest Africa.

Her true title in Kimbundu, the local language, was 'Ngola'. And that was the term that the Portuguese used to call precisely the region as we know it today: Angola.

Photo by  Joshua Rodriguez  on  Unsplash


This denomination became widespread in 1575, when Portuguese soldiers invaded Ndongo in search of gold and silver.

When the soldiers were unable to find the mines they were looking for, they decided to change their strategy and began capturing slaves to secure labour in Brazil, their then-new colony.

Born eight years after the invasion, Njinga joined the resistance against the Portuguese along with her father, King Ngola Mbandi Kiluanji, from a very young age.

When Ngola died in 1617, one of his sons, Ngola Mbandi, took his power. However, he did not have his father’s charisma or his sister Njinga’s intelligence.

Fearing a popular uprising in her favour, Ngola Mbandi ordered the execution of his sister's only child.

But when he found himself unable to deal with the Europeans, who were gaining ground and causing more casualties among the local population, Mbandi eventually accepted the suggestion of his closest advisors.

Negotiations with Portugal

The king relented and delegated power to his sister - who was a great strategist and fluent in Portuguese thanks to the education she was given by missionaries -, to negotiate with Portugal and sign a peace agreement.

When Njinga arrived in Luanda to start the negotiations, she found a city populated by black, white and brown people she had never seen before. But this was not the image that surprised her the most.

Slaves were lined up, sold and placed on large ships. In just a few years, Luanda had become one of the largest points of sale and distribution of slaves throughout Africa.

When she visited Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa’s palace to begin the peace talks, Njinga carried out a scene full of symbolism that would later be widely highlighted by historical records.

She noticed that while Correia de Souza was sitting in a comfortable armchair, there was nothing for her to sit on except for a rug on the floor.

Without speaking a single word and with only a glance, one of his servants knelt down and reclined in front of the governor. Njinga sat on her back so as to stand at the same height as the Portuguese ruler.

It was her clear and direct way of expressing that she would speak to him on an equal footing.

After arduous negotiations, the two sides agreed to the withdrawal of the Portuguese troops from Ndongo and the recognition of Ndongo’s sovereignty. In exchange, the territory would be open for the Portuguese to create trade routes.

In an attempt to improve relations with Lisbon, Njinga even accepted being converted to Christianity and was baptized as Ana de Souza. She was 40 years old at the time.

But the cordial relations did not last long and the confrontations resumed.