A Woman to Know: Nzinga

She couldn't be ordinary. She had to be a superwoman. — historian Linda Heywood

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

There's this famous story about Nzinga.

In the late 16th century, Portugese slave traders had settled in Angola, near Nzinga's Mbundu homeland. The white settlers had invited her brother, King Mbande, for a "peace summit." He sent Nzinga in his place. When the 50-year-old queen arrived, she noticed the Portugese governor had orchestrated a subtle power move -- he was sitting in the only chair available, forcing Nzinga to stand. But that wasn't Nzinga's style. She immediately gestured to one of her Mbundu assistants. He got down on all fours to act as a chair. Nzinga sat on his back for the duration of the meeting, during which she negotiated for trade between the two nations and a supply of guns for her people.

For her next two decades as Mbundu Queen, Nzinga would wage a near-ceaseless war against the Portugese slave traders. She formed an alliance with the Dutch, defeated several armies and personally led battles. She formed the basis for a centuries-long resistance movement, one that would ultimately win Angola its independence in 1975.

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