The Power of Women in the Ancient Kongo Kingdom

Queen Nzingha of Angola
Queen Nzingha of Angola

Below is a description of the power of women in the ancient Kongo Kingdom. Remember that a lot of African cultures are matriarchal. The description below is from 1704, and shows that there were women kings in Kongo, and also that the Kongo Empire had vassal kings who reported all to the one King of Kongo. There were also great queens like Queen Nzingha: Great Queen of Angola in neighboring kingdoms, to whom other kings reported. The text below has been translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.

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The power of women in the Ancient Kongo Kingdom

In the evening I received the visit from a matron who was chief of her locality [Tubii] and other villages of the Sogno [Soyo] principality. She does not recognize any other authority above her but that of the King of Kongo. These villages are always governed by women.

Lorenzo da Lucca, 7th relation, Soyo, 31 January 1704 in Jean Cuvelier

Les Africains Vol.9, Editions J.A, C.-A. Julien, P. 58, (1977)

Strong African Women and History Amnesia, Patriarchy, Sexism, and Racism: the Case of Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela_5
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

The world celebrates men. Men can be ambitious, they can work to liberate their countries, they can be revolutionaries, and lead people. No one is against that. The world applauds these men. But when women fight for the liberation of their countries, they are vilified; they are called all sorts of names. It’s as if the world suffers from selective amnesia. We have a woman who is at the same level as all the world revolutionaries, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. 

Just taking a look back at history, men, white supremacy, and patriarchy do not like strong women, and particularly strong black women. For instance, in the 1660s, white men described (and it can still be read in history books) the great Angolan warrior Queen Nzingha who fought for her people’s freedom and fought the Portuguese against slavery, as an angry, power-hungry, and over-sexed woman who would sleep with one new soldier every night, and have him killed the next morning. Such absurdity! Wouldn’t that diminish her troops, troops strongly needed to fight against the Portuguese?

Queen Nzingha of Angola
Queen Nzingha of Angola

Next, we have the great queen Taytu Betul, the queen without whom there would have been no Battle of Adwa, where Ethiopia defeated Italy, the first victory of an African nation on a European one. There again, European historians describe Queen Taytu Betul as a man-eater, a woman with a black heart, manipulative, hateful, and conniving.

Taytu_Betul5
Empress Taytu Betul of Ethiopia

In both cases, the truth is that they are afraid of the power of the Black woman; these historians vilify Black women. The patriarchal and white supremacy system hates Winnie Madikizela-Mandela because she fought like no other, like no man would have. She was strong, and brave, and a woman of principle. To them, she was a woman, she should have stayed home, and not joined and fought tirelessly for freedom. Even though she was cleared of the murder of Stompi, she is hated while Nelson Mandela is sanctified, but everybody forgets that Nelson Mandela was once the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe the armed branch of the ANC. We do not hate that fact, because we know that, that was what was needed at the time for the apartheid regime to fall. So why do people applaud Nelson Mandela, and honor him, while they hate Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who kept his name alive while he was in jail 27 years, and fought like not many human beings (not even him) would have fought? The world applauds him, because he is a man. The world should also celebrate her, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Stop the sexist history, the patriarchist history, the racist history. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is a world revolutionary, and should be applauded for her stance all those years, for her hard work, her determination, her principle, and her love of her people. She should be celebrated. Please do watch what EFF leader Julius Malema has to say about it.

Why the Name: Luanda?

Map of Angola
Map of Angola

I often wondered where the name of Luanda, the capital and largest city of Angola, came from. After the African Cup of Nations was organized in Angola in 2010, I had started thinking about it: was it a Kimbundu word, or Umbundu, or Kikongo? or did it have Portuguese roots?

Map of Luanda in the 1700s
Map of Luanda in the 1700s

Well, it turns out that, on 25 January 1576, Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias de Novais founded Luanda under the name of “São Paulo da Assumpção de Loanda”.  When he arrived on the Ilha do Cabo (Cape Island), he found an indigenous population, the Axi-Iwanda people, a subgroup of the Ambundu people which were tributary to the Kongo Empire.  The island was an important location to collect zimbo, shells used as currency by the Kongo king before the arrival of Portuguese in the area. Novais established a Portuguese settlement of about 700 people: 350 soldiers, missionaries, merchants, and officials, and families, to first gain control of the currency, before establishing himself on the mainland, opposite the island. They started to use the name of the Axi-Iwanda inhabitants as a name for the island and the town, spelling it first “Loanda, then “Luanda“.

Queen Nzingha sitting on the back of her servant
Queen Nzingha sitting on the back of her servant, during her audience with the Portuguese governor in Luanda

In 1618, the Portuguese built the fortress of Fortaleza São Pedro da Barra, and they subsequently built two more in 1634 and 1765: Fortaleza de São Miguel and Forte de São Francisco do Penedo , respectively. Of these, the Fortaleza de São Miguel is the best preserved. In 1622, Queen Nzingha had an audience with the Portuguese governor in Luanda (this was before she became queen). The city of Luanda has been the administrative center of the colony of Angola since 1627, except from 1641 to 1648 when it was under the control of the Dutch Company of West Indies.  From 1550 to 1836, Luanda was an important center for slave trade to Brazil. When Angola became an actual Portuguese colony, the city was divided between white neighborhoods and indigenous ones, as was tradition in almost all European colonies. The white colonialists lived in huge villas with servants, while the local populations lived in huts. The majority of the local population present in Luanda were Ambundu and Bakongo.  The colonial army would constantly guard the entrance to the European neighborhoods.

View of Luanda in 1883
View of Luanda in 1883

After the slave trade was abolished in 1836, Angola’s ports were then opened to foreign shipping in 1844. By 1850, Luanda was one of the greatest and most developed Portuguese cities in the vast Portuguese Empire outside Continental Portugal, full of trading companies, exporting palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa, among many other products. Maize, tobacco, dried meat, and cassava flour were also produced locally. In 1889, Governor Brito Capelo inaugurated an aqueduct which supplied the city with water, laying the foundation for major growth. After the establishment of the republican regime in Portugal in 1910, colonialism entered a new phase. The new Portuguese government started building schools in Angola. The first high school, Liceu Central de Luanda, was created in 1919. During the authoritarian Estado Novo years, Luanda was also used as a penitentiary colony, used to host convicted criminals.

Agostinho Neto
Agostinho Neto, first president of Angola

A few months after independence from Portugal in 1975, with Agostinho Neto becoming Angola’s first president, civil war broke in the country when the city of Luanda was attacked by the FNLA forces supported by Portuguese mercenaries. This assault was pushed back by the governmental army (MPLA) supported by Cubans in the battle of Kifangondo. Throughout the years, the civil war forced many people across the country to seek refuge in Luanda. After the death of  Jonas Savimbi, UNITA‘s leader in 2002, a ceasefire was reached, and Angola finally arose from over 25 years of civil war.

Flag of Angola
Flag of Angola

Today, Luanda is the siege of the country’s principal companies: Angola Telecom, Unitel, Endiama, Sonangol, Linhas Aéreas de Angola, and Odebrecht Angola (Brazilian company). Back in 1972, it was already called the “Paris of Africa.” Manufacturing is big in the city. Petroleum found in nearby off-shore deposits is refined in the city. Luanda has an excellent natural harbor. The city also has a thriving building industry, an effect of the nationwide economic boom experienced since 2002, when political stability returned with the end of the civil war. Large investments, along with strong economic growth, have made Luanda one of the fastest growing cities of Africa, and of the world. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, and rich through its culture, Luanda is truly an African pearl. Please enjoy this video of one of the jewels of Africa, Luanda.

Queen Nzingha: Great Queen of Angola

Queen Nzingha of Angola
Queen Nzingha of Angola

Today, I will be talking about another great queen of Africa: the Queen Nzingha of Angola, who defended her kingdom against the Portuguese for 40 years and defeated them.  Yes! DEFEATED THE PORTUGUESE IN THE 1600s!  See… another gap in our textbooks: anybody heard of this great queen and of her military and diplomatic genius?

Well, the great Queen Nzingha was born in Angola at the end of the 1500s, just over 100 years after the Portuguese started slavery ports across Africa.  She was born to Ndambi Kiluanji, Ngola (king) of the Mbundu and Ndongo people and his second wife Kangela, in 1582.  At her birth, a wise woman predicted that she will one day become queen, which was unheard of since there were no women rulers in those days.

In her youth, Nzingha was strongly favored by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war.  She participated in all the intense training for warriors. Nzingha grew up in a world normally suited for males.  She was educated in the fields of hunting and archery, and in diplomay and trade.  Nzingha was a true politician, and showed true military and intellectual genius.  She also had two sisters Kifunji and Mukambu, and a brother Mbandi.

Queen Nzingha sitting on the back of her servant
Queen Nzingha sitting on the back of her servant, during her audience with the Portuguese governor

Nzingha was special in the sense that she was well-educated and spoke and wrote fluent Portuguese.  As the Portuguese were setting a slave port in Luanda (present-day capital of Angola), and capturing the people for slavery, Ngola Kiluanji tried to work diplomatically with the Portuguese to keep the Mbundu people safe, but many were captured and taken into slavery.  At the death of her father in 1617, Nzingha’s brother, Mbandi, took over the throne as required by tradition.  In 1622, Nzingha went to Luanda working for Mbandi as a special emissary to negociate peace treaties with the Portuguese.  When she met with the Portuguese governor of Luanda, João Correia de Sousa, she was refused a seat.  As a mark of power, she sat on the back of one of her male servants and made him a human bench, to show the governor that she would not negociate with him from an inferior footing.  This was a woman ahead of her time, and who would not be made inferior!  There she succeeded in negociating a peace treatment.

After her return to Kabasa (the capital of the Mbundu kingdom), Mbandi committed suicide.  The Portuguese profited from this moment of weakness to attack Kabasa and burnt it to the ground.  Nzingha fleed with her people, and moved her people to the mountains where she formed an army to fight against the Portuguese.  She was named Ngola of the Mbundu people in 1624, with two of her war leaders and closest advisors being her sisters Kifunji and Mukambu.  In 1626, after the Portuguese betrayed yet another treaty, she was led to move her people further west and establish a kingdom in Matamba.  There, she organized several alliances with neighboring people such as the Imbangala people, and developed a new form of military organization known as kilombo, in which youths moved away from their families, and were raised communally in militias.  Nzingha also made alliances with the Dutch to fight the Portuguese, but to realize later that they were all the same as the Portuguese: treacherous, and only there to enslave the Mbundu people.  From 1630 to her death in 1663, Nzingha, Queen General of Matamba, launched a formidable opposition to the Portuguese regime from the rocky slopes of Matamba.  The Portuguese came to respect her for her strength, dignity, pride, shrewdness, and her intransigence.  She was their strongest enemy in Angola.  Nzingha ruled for almost 40 years in both Ndongo and Matamba.

Nzingha's Kingdom
Nzingha’s Kingdom

Nzingha died in 1663, at the age of 82. She was succeeded on the throne by her sister Mukambu (also known as Barbara).  Mukambu gave Nzingha a burial befitting of the greatest Ngolas: Nzingha was laid to rest in her leopard skins and with her bow over her shoulder and arrows in her hand.  This was the first time in history that the Mbundu people had been led by a woman, and everyone remembered Nzingha as an outstanding, impressive, female warrior, ruler and field commander.  For the Mbundu people, she is remembered for her love of her people, her strength, charisma, and her fight for their sovereignty and freedom.  No wonder, her influence was felt centuries later, when African slaves in Brazil organized themselves in Quilombo to fight their white masters and retain their freedom.

Pedras Negras mountains of Pungo Andongo
Pedras Negras mountains of Pungo Andongo (once the capital of Ndongo kingdom)

It took me 3 christmas and new year holidays to finally realize this video of Queen Nzingha de Mbande of Angola.  It took me this long not only because I only worked on it a few days of the year, but also because the time and references had to be right.  I am so glad to be able to present to you this great video which talks about another great queen of Africa, one who defended, and defeated the Portuguese for over 40 years.  See… another thing that is not written in African history books; we tend to think that our leaders were all weaklings, but we had real kings and real leaders like Samori Toure, Behanzin, Ranavalona I, Amanishakheto, Beatrice of Congo, and Nzingha who fought the foreign invaders for the freedom of their people.  Enjoy learning about Queen Nzingha of Angola. You can also read Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola by Patricia McKissack, as well as Black Women of Antiquity by Ivan van Sertima; don’t forget to check out this piece on Metropolitan Museum‘s website.

Did you know about Nzingha? How do you feel, now that you know that there was a great queen like her?