A Black woman in traditional clothing, posing in front of stone stairs in a public garden. The text reads,

Have you heard about the great Queen and Mother of Angola?

She was Nzinga Mbande(c. 1582–1663), Queen of Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms in present-day Angola, a diplomat and negotiator, skilled warrior, and fierce protector of her kingdom and people.

Nzinga has a special place in Angolan and African history!

undefined A statue of Nzinga Mbande in Luanda, Republic of Angola (image by Erik Cleves Kristensen)

Context Around Nzinga's Time

  • In the 16th century, central Africa consisted of several independent kingdoms, including the Ndongo kingdom, where Nzinga was born.

  • The arrival of the Portuguese in the late 16th century threatened the Ndongo kingdom.

  • The Portuguese founded the port city of Luanda (west of Ndongo) and wanted to make it one of the continent's biggest slave-trading ports.

  • They massively increased their slave-trading activities, starting a war on Ndongo to conquer the whole kingdom.

A map showing the Kingdom of Ndongo. The kingdom of Ndongo in 1550 and its known neighbors such as Matamba

Who Was Nzinga Mbande?

  • Born into the royal family of Ndongo, Nzinga had been given a good education.

  • She knew Portuguese and wrote her own letters to the Portuguese kings and governors.

  • Nzinga assumed power of Ndongo after the death of her father and brother.

  • During her reign, she had to flee to and capture Matamba, a neighboring kingdom.

  • Nzinga always considered herself the Queen of Ndongo along with Matamba and was also called the "double Queen".

undefined Hand-colored lithograph of Queen Nzinga Mbande

1. Get Your Seat At The Table

In 1622, Nzinga’s brother and then-King of Ndongo, sent her to negotiate a peace treaty with the Portuguese on his behalf. When Nzinga entered the reception room, the Portuguese Governor was seated on a chair while she was offered a mat on the floor.

Nzinga then asked one of her servants to kneel on all fours and serve as a chair, tactfully giving the message that she had come to "negotiate on an equal footing." Nzinga proved to be an outstanding negotiator and diplomat during this visit.

An illustration depicting Nzinga's negotiation with DeSousa. Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese Governor

Nzinga stood up for herself and ensured that she was treated equally.

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Have you experienced such a situation like Nzinga's? How would you respond when not offered a seat at the table and treated unequally?

A A quote by Shirley Chisholm:

Quiz: Maya's Seat at the Table

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Maya has recently joined a new project team. She likes the work and has some great ideas for the project. Maya's colleagues, however, have been undermining her ideas and presence. She is frustrated and doesn't feel like an equal on the team.


What could Maya do in this situation to get her seat at the table? Select all that apply:

2. Be Relentless

Nzinga resisted Portugal’s colonial rule and plans until her death. She personally led her troops into battles well into her sixties.

She relied not just on her skills in warfare, guerilla tactics, and spy strategies but also on her extraordinary ability to negotiate and form strategic alliances. In thirty years of warfare, the Portuguese never succeeded in capturing her.

Today, Nzinga is considered a symbol of resistance and freedom in Angola.

File:Nzinga Mbandi Queen of Ndongo and Matamba SEQ 01 Ecran 1.png Nzinga depicted on horseback confronting Portuguese forces (illustration by Pat Masioni)

Nzinga relentlessly fought against the Portuguese to protect the independence of her kingdom and people.

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What is that one cause or goal closest to your heart that you’d like to keep working towards relentlessly?

A woman saying,

3. Lead A Change

Nizinga became Queen of the Ndongo kingdom at a time when only males could rule, as tradition didn't allow women to be rulers. By the time of her death, she had established that a woman could also rule through her exceptional leadership skills.

Nzinga then appointed her sister Barbara as her successor. Later, the Kingdom of Ndongo-Matamba had several female rulers.

Hands of several women clapping around the words

Nzinga set the precedent for female rulers and made the idea of a woman ruler acceptable in her kingdom.

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What is one small change that you can lead in your family or society to positively affect the future?

Scrabble letters that spell out, Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Take Action

Are you feeling inspired by Nzinga?

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