Black History Month: Queen Nzinga Mbande

Queen Nzinga Mbande

(c. 1583 – December 17, 1663)

2nd - Queen Nzingambande
Photo Cred: LunaSerene via


[su_note note_color=”#40cd11″ radius=”5″]Noteworthy Accomplishments & Historical Facts

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  • Ruthless and powerful ruler of the Ndongo (known as Angola today) and Matamba Kingdoms
  • Presented herself as equal to men whom looked down on her because she was a woman
  • Fearlessly & cleverly fought for freedom against the Portugese
  • Offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers
  • Spearheaded a rebellion against the Portugese


A Young Woman Getting a Taste for that Warrior Life

Nzinga Mbande was born to King Kiluanji and Kangela in 1583. Kangela was the King’s second wife. Nzinga got her name because she was born with the umbilical cord around her neck. She had one older brother (from the 1st wife) and two sisters. 

Her father favored her over her brother because she excelled where he didn’t, but she was still held back because of her gender. During the time she was growing up, the Portuguese traders invaded the coast of Ndongo in an effort to colonize the region to control the trade of African slaves. They (Portuguese) attacked many of their old trading partners to further this goal. The King ended up leading the Ndongo tribes to war in rebellion.  Other Mbundu tribes started making deals with the Portuguese, all this did was weaken the people overall.

As the King’s favorite, he and his men trained Nzinga in the art of warfare. Also, he would often let her tag along to witness how he governed the kingdom, and even let her go to war with him. Nzinga fought alongside her people and fell in love with a fellow royal tribesman. The pair had a son, but her husband would die later in battle. As a widow, she still fought for her people despite the grief. So you can see, she got a taste of that fighter life early on! 

Taking the Crown, Rise to Power

When her father died, her brother, Mbandi, became king but he was unfit for rule. In 1617 the new governor of Luanda (Luanda, today the capital of Angola, was founded in 1576) began an aggressive campaign against the kingdom of Ndongo. His troops invaded the capital and forced King Ngola Mbandi to flee from the area. Thousands of Ndongo people were taken prisoner.

Due to this devastating loss, Mbandi sent Nzinga to meet with Portuguese governor, Joao Corria de Sousa to try and forge a peace treaty. Of course, because she was a woman, and African at that, the Portuguese were already planning on presenting her as a subordinate to the governor. When she arrived to the meeting there was only one chair in which the governor sat in, and they provided her with a mat to sit on; as a subordinate should. Ha! When she saw that, she was like “snap, snap,” and immediately one of her servants got down on all fours and she sat on him (as seen in the picture below). Yep, that’s right, they shunned her, she made her own chair! Clearly, the Portuguese never got the upper-hand in this meeting, and had no choice but to agree to her terms. Especially because she presented herself as a strong EQUAL! All of this before becoming the Queen.

2nd - Queen Nzingambande - meeting
Psssssssh…I’ll make my own chair!

What happened next? Oh, the Portuguese lied. They never honored the treaty. They didn’t withdraw Ambaca, or return the subjects, whom they held as slaves captured in war, and they were unable to restrain the Imbangala.

Finally, Mbandi killed himself. He was convinced that he’d never be able to recover what he lost in the war, or shall we say the pillage! Like I said, he was not fit to be King. Now let’s take a second, and crown the Queen. I must note, some sources say she killed her brother’s son to get her crown because he was next in line.

War, Alliances and Building Up Her Kindgom

As the new sovereign of Ndongo, Nzinga re-entered negotiations with the Portuguese. At the time, Ndongo was under attack from both the Portuguese and neighboring African aggressors. Nzinga realized that in order to achieve peace and for her kingdom to remain viable, she needed to become an intermediary. Nzinga ended up converting to Christianity to strengthen the peace treaty and she adopted the name, Dona Anna de Sousa in honor of the governor’s wife when she was baptized. By doing this she acquired a partner in her fight against her African enemies, and ending Portuguese slave raiding in the kingdom. 

However, Ndongo’s alliance with Portugal did not last long. 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 in 1630, 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. She was fiercely determined to liberate her people and not relinquish control since the Portuguese had been occupying part of her land, after they ran her off. She 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 let’s be real, they’ve lied and betrayed her every time.

Nzinga would form alliances with other armies, including the Dutch in 1641. Queen Nzinga and the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1647, although the Dutch would later succumb to Portuguese forces. Don’t for one second think she was doing all of this from her throne. She would personally lead the forces in to battle, even though she was well into her 60s during the 30-year war with the Portuguese. Talk about fighter! Sheesh, how may people do you know that will lead battles in their sixties?

2nd - Queen Nzingambande - battle

Even after her death, the guerrilla forces she led still carried out attacks on the enemy years after she passed in 1663.


The Royal…is to Die For!

Legend has it that after becoming Queen, Nzinga kept an all male haram at her disposal. Her men fought to the death in order to spend the night with her, and after a single night of lovemaking, they were put to death.

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