Nzingha (1582-1663) was a very good military leader, who waged war against the slave-hunting Europeans for more than thirty years. Nzingha was of Angolan descent, but she became an inspiration to African people everywhere. During the reign of her brother, King Ngola, she was sent to represent him at a peace conference with the Portugese. The Govenor refused to give her a seat, so she defied him by sitting on the back of one of her attendants. When her brother died, she became ruler of Ndongo in his place.
Queen Nzingha was a member of the Jagas, a military group who formed a human shield of protection against the Portugese slave traders. As a visionary political leader, competent and self-sacrificing, she was completely devoted to the resistance movement. One Portugese officer described her as “cunning and prudent….so generously valiant that she never hurt a Portugese after quarter was given and commanded all her servants and soldiers alike.” She formed alliances with other foreign powers, setting them against one another to free Angola of European influence. Using her knowledge of European customs and religion, she formed valuable alliances with the Dutch, who wanted to end the slave trade of Africans by the Portugese. She possessed both masculine toughness and feminine charm, using them both as each situation required. She declared that every slave who escaped to Ndongo would be free.
Her death in 1663 opened the door for massive Portugese slave trading. Yet her struggle had awakened and encouraged others to take up the struggle against the invaders. Nzinga proved to be a capable leader. Although she is no longer with her people in body, Nzingha’s spirit of intelligence, bravery and determination lies within each woman.