March is Women’s History month, and as usual I am left bemoaning the lesser known female heroes everywhere. In that spirit I wish to tell you a little bit about one amazing fierce African Queen Nzinga. Nzinga was named according to tradition because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbundu verb kujinga means to twist,) this is said to mean the person would be proud. She lived up to her name becoming a inspirational visionary and a foremother to modern warrior women everywhere. She was born in 1582 as Nzinga Mbande Ngola and is known as Africa’s “Joan of Arc.” From the very start Nzinga fought against involvement in her native land of Ndongo, later renamed Angola. For Nzinga was sister to the king of Ndongo. She was a member of the Jagas tribe (nation,) which was violently opposed to the Portuguese slave trade. Nzinga skillfully formed an alliance with the Dutch, who provided her with additional troops with which to mount a revolt.
A Harem of 60 Men for her pleasure ….
Nzinga posessed a unique blend of both masculine and feminine charm. In 1623 she was made warrior and Queen of the Ndongo, after her brother’s suicide or murder, depending on which version of herstory you believe. She forbade her subjects to use the title of Queen, preferring instead to be called King. Like the West African goddess Oya, Nzinga was said to wear male garments to ride into battle. The positions in her royal court were
filled by women, and she also had a large number of female attendants. The Marquis deSade in his Philosophy in the Boudoir says Nzinga “Immolated her lovers.” Folkloric legend says she had a harem of 60 men for her pleasure, putting them to death after a single sexual encounter. She was known for her weaponry, even carrying a machete onto the battlefield. Linda Heywood, professor of African American studies tells us “No one could use the battle axe like Njinga(Nzinga).”
The historical record of “King” Nzinga tells of a woman who was ruthless with her foes and elegantly gracious with her allies. She was an ingenious orator who frequently singled out slaves in her speeches, offering them land and freedom to fight alongside her. Nzinga gained widespread support from both her own people, and neighboring kingdoms, making her a serious threat to the Portuguese.
She died peacefully in 1663. Unfortunately her death allowed the Portuguese to increase the slave trade, but she is still thought of as the inspiration behind Angolan independence which finally came almost 300 years later in 1975. Today a statue of her stands in Luanda’s Kinaxixi Square.
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