Queen Nzinga Mbande of Angola (1583-1663)


The first Portuguese explorers arrived in present-day Luanda around the 1500s. By 1575 Paulo Dias de Novais arrived with a hundred families of colonists and four hundred soldiers. They set up a fort at present-day Luanda.

The Portuguese gradually took control of the coastal area through a series of treaties and wars throughout the 16th century, and their interest in Angola quickly turned to the slave trade.

With the capital at Luanda on the coast, the Portuguese struggled against the kingdoms of Kongo, Ndongo, and Matamba to gain control of the interior.

One of the key figures in the resistance against Portuguese occupation of the interior and slavery was Queen Nzinga Mbande of the Mbundu people of Ndongo and Matamba.

In 1626 Nzinga became Queen of the Mbundu when her brother committed suicide in the face of rising Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions. Nzinga, however, refused to allow them to control her nation.

In 1627, after forming alliances with former rival states, she led her army against the Portuguese, initiating a thirty-year war against them. She exploited European rivalry by allying with the Dutch who had conquered Luanda in 1641.

With their help, Nzinga defeated a Portuguese army in 1647. When the Dutch were in turn defeated by the Portuguese the following year and withdrew from Central Africa, Nzinga continued her struggle against the Portuguese.

Now in her 60s she still personally led troops in battle. She also orchestrated guerilla attacks on the Portuguese.

Despite repeated attempts by the Portuguese and their allies to capture or kill Queen Nzinga, she died peacefully in her eighties on December 17, 1663.

Queen Nzinga is recognised as the foremother of the Angolan revolution. Her resistance to the Portuguese inspired the successful 20th-century Angolan armed struggle that resulted in independent Angola in 1975. Below is a memorial statue of Queen Nzinga in Luanda.

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