When thinking of female leaders from ancient Africa, who comes to mind? Perhaps Queen Amina, Hateshput of Egypt, Queen Sheba, Queen Idia, Queen Cleopatra, or Queen Njinga. The list is endless. Today we wanted to focus on one of the phenomenal women leaders in African history, Queen Njinga Mbandi!
Njinga Mbandi had a life unlike any woman before or after her. Born into the illustrious and wealthy Angolan ruling class, Njinga refused to play by society's rules and instead decided to fight in wars and become a warrior queen! She didn't just do it for fun, but because she genuinely wanted to change the world. Her legacy and impact shaped Angolan history.
Let us explore facts about the legendary queen.
1. The Meaning Behind Her Name
Njinga had a rather traumatic childbirth. When she was born, it was discovered that she had an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Despite being in this problematic situation, Njinga survived and was perfectly fine. She was named Njinga, which comes from "Kujinga" in the Kimbundu language. Kujinga means to twist and turn.
Njinga survived during birth. Illustration from our children's book, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
There has been confusion in regards to the correct spelling of her name. Some have argued that her name was Nzinga, while others have argued it is Njinga.
In the late 1800s, a modern orthography form of Kimbundu was introduced by Heli Chatelain. It has been widely accepted in Kimbundu translations since the 1900s. It spells her name as Njinga.
Regardless of the spelling, her name was a testament to how she would become a warrior queen.
2. She Was Prophesied To Be A Queen
Njinga was born in a royal family. Her father, Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba, was the king. She had a brother, Mbandi, who took over from his father.
Njinga's mother, Kengela ka Nkombe, was given a prophecy that her daughter would become a queen. Kengela didn't make much out of the prediction because it was unusual for women to sit on the throne.
3. She Had To Flee For Safety
Mbandi overthrew his father and took over the kingdom. Mbandi was threatened by anyone who could dethrone him just as he did to his father. He had Njinga's son killed. He also ordered doctors to sterilize his sister. Njinga had to flee from her tyrant brother. She ran to the neighbouring kingdom Matamba.
Njinga had to run away as her life was in danger. Illustration from our children's book, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
4. She Was A Skilled Negotiator
Mbandi's rule over the kingdom of Ndongo was falling apart. There were constant raids on the slave trade from the Portuguese. He sent for his sister to negotiate with the Portuguese on the kingdom's behalf.
Njinga was well educated and spoke fluent Portuguese. She accepted her brother's request and met with the Governor of Portuguese, Joao Corr a de Sousa. It was a peace negotiation between the Portuguese and her people. Njinga remained firm and negotiated that the slave raids would end in exchange for establishing trading routes for the Portuguese. She also demanded that Ndongo should be recognized as a sovereign nation.
What is most notable about this meeting is that when Njinga arrived, there was no chair present for her. She was to sit on the mat, which would have made her inferior to the governor, while he sat on the chair. Njinga came up with an ingenious plan where she had one of her entourage get on his hands and knees to create a seat for her. That action certainly left a lasting impression.
Njinga outsmarted the Portuguese when one of her helpers created a proper chair for her. Illustration from our children's book, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
5. She Was An Astute Diplomat
After she met with the governor, Njinga changed religions as a show of good faith. She was baptized as a Catholic and even changed her name to Dona Anna de Souza. She took the governor's last name.
The change of religion was not a religious act on Njinga's end but rather a calculated political move. She allowed the Portuguese missionaries to set up in the kingdom so that they could bring their advanced technology to the nation.
She also created powerful allies with the Dutch army.
6. She Fought Against The Slave Trade By The Portuguese
The kingdom of Ndongo was strategically located. To access Central Africa, the Portuguese had to go through Ndongo; conquer it, and establish a slave trade.
The Portuguese did not hold up the end of their deal following their talk with Njinga. The people of Ndongo had to fight off the Portuguese. Njinga literally led her army to battle against the Portuguese, even in her sixties!
7. She Ruled Over Two Kingdoms
Mbandi passed on. His cause of death is not known. It has been rumoured that he either died by suicide or was murdered. Njinga took over the kingdom. Given the lack of women leaders in the kingdom of Ndongo, Njinga faced a lot of resistance.
During this time, the Portuguese army was after her. She took her people and fled back to the kingdom of Matamba. She conquered the kingdom and declared herself the queen. It was much easier for her to become the queen because Matamba had a history of queen ruling.
Njinga also used her alliance with the Dutch to fight against the Portuguese. The Dutch were also fighting against the Portuguese, and they teamed up with Njinga's army. It was a revolutionary alliance since it was the first time a European country teamed up with a non-European country to fight against a fellow European country.
Njinga continued to establish relationships with other armies to strengthen her power and keep the Portuguese from advancing. She was termed a visionary military leader.
Through her alliance with the Dutch army, she reclaimed the kingdom of Ndongo. She became queen of both kingdoms!
8. She Was A Trailblazer For Women
Njinga was such a fierce warrior that she didn't refer to herself as the queen but rather "king". As mentioned earlier, she led her army to battle even in her sixties. Njinga also incorporated women into the military and even made some of them generals. She also took it a step further by having women in government positions. Njinga defied societal expectations and created roles for women.
She chose her sister, Barbara, to succeed her.
Njinga was a force to be reckoned with. An exemplary leader who shaped Angola's history as we as that of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We celebrate and uphold her legacy. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our children's book based on her, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba, and the accompanying activity book and colouring book.
What are some facts you would add about Queen Njinga? Write them in the comments!