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For my paper, I chose to highlight one of the many giants of recent African History, regarded as the greatest African leader of this millennium by many. A woman, who rose up, and led one of the most successful resistance movements against European settlement and subsequent genocide in Africa. In talking about this great and beloved warrior Queen, her legacy, which has lived on, well after her death must also be touched upon, for because of this extremely charismatic woman the country currently known as Angola, formerly known as Mbundu has been able to hold on to large amounts of cultural sovereignty, as well as being able to keep up, at least nominally with the economies of the richer Arab controlled lands in the north. Our story begins in around 1492. To understand what goes on presently, one must understand what went on previously. To make a very long and detailed story fit, I'll just give the most needed information. As every American schoolchild knows, Christopher Columbus sailed for Spain, and indirectly for Portugal in 1492. Because of this early start, the two mentioned countries got a jump start on the destruction of world civilizations, much before the rest of Europe was even ready to man ocean worthy ships. They created new colonies, stole gold and sent it home. After 100 - 150 years, the rest of Europe was ready to take part in the very lucrative business of global genocidal oppression. The second wave of Europeans, the French, Scandinavian, English, and Germans
had a century to watch their predecessors and improve upon their mistakes, and indeed they did! In fact, the new entrants in world domination did so well in one upping the originators, that England, in their first naval war defeated the then world super power of Spain, thus cementing their position in world politics. One may wonder what the above has to do with the situation at hand. All events in recent history have impacted greatly the events that followed. After the losses in wars with the northern Europeans, territories that were originally hijacked by the Spanish and Portuguese were then taken by the winners Mainly the French and British. This caused the losers to scramble for new land, and subsequently new sources of human labor. At this time, the late 1500's the main, and truly only source of human labor rested in Africa. The Portuguese, trying to escape the British and French had to venture deeper into the continent to procure this needed resource. Contrary to popular belief however, the Africans did not just turn lay down and accept this treatment, truly, many fought valiant and often successful campaigns against it. History it seems, has conveniently forgotten these resistance movements, subsequently painting the Africans people in darkness waiting for the Europeans to enslave and subsequently civilize them. In the immortal words of the great historian and Master Teacher Dr. John Henrik Clarke,
".....European historians have inferred, or said outright, that the world waited in darkness for the Europeans to bring the light. In fact, the Europeans destroyed more civilization than they ever created. They destroyed civilizations that were already old before Europe was born."
In other words more lights were put out around the world than were lit. Nzinga came to power, in the midst of the Portuguese trying to put out the light of her civilization. Her brother, King Mbandi passed away. She took the reins and ruled the kingdom. Implementing many programs directed at keeping her lands out of Portuguese hands. The first thing she did when she came into power was organize a meeting with Portuguese officials, drawing out detailed demands for the invaders to follow, under threat of all out war. She called a conference and it was to be held at the Portuguese stronghold of Luanda. As Chancellor Williams tells it in his historical masterpiece: "The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of Race from 4500 B.C. To 2000 AD"
.....But even before the peace conference began, and at the risk of wrecking it, the governor's Caucasian arrogance could not be restrained. He had decided on a studied insult at the outset by providing chairs in the conference room only for himself and his councilors, with the idea of forcing the black princess to stand humbly before his presence. He remained seated of course, staring haughtily as she entered the room. She took in the situation at a glance with a contemptuous smile, while her attendants moved with a swiftness that seemed to suggest they had anticipated this stupid behavior by the Portuguese. They quickly rolled out a beautifully designed royal carped they had brought before Nzinga, after which one of them went on all fours and expertly formed himself into a "royal throne" upon which the princess sat easily without being a strain on her devoted follower.
So from the outset, as expressed by Mr. Williams, the invaders had no intention of coming to an amicable agreement with the beleaguered people. Some like to think of this as some inhuman degradation by the queen, imposed on her slaves, thus equalizing the two sides of the conflict morally. The astute researcher however,
would look at the culture of the Mbandi Africans, as well as African people as a whole and see that, as Mr. Williams put it:
One reason might be that she was so much loved and even blindly followed by her people that it was believed that all would die, to the last man and woman, following her leadership. Such were the men, not slaves who gladly formed a human couch before the astonished Portuguese for their leader.
The astute politician in Queen Nzinga, realizing the position her enemies held at the onset realized immediately that because of the disrespect, they already had their mind set on what was going to happen to her kingdom. As the ruler of her nation she set 3 stipulations before any treaty was signed. They were as follows:
The Portuguese had to evacuate Kabasa (a Portuguese fortification) and all nearby areas. Declare war on all the Africans who they had allied with (especially the people known as Jaga whom were their prime allies)
All chefs who had capitulated to Portugal had to be set free.
In return she'd return all the prisoners of war she had taken. The governor signed the treaty and left, to invade almost immediately after voiding the treaty. Next year, her brother, the King died and she became ruler of all of Mbundu. Upon gaining status of Queen she sent an ultimatum to the Portuguese stating that if they didn't go by the terms of the treaty, all out war would be declared. Before the two armies could meet in battle, a third party showed up, wanting a stake in Mbundu. The Dutch, who were vicious slavers, wanted a part in the action. Quickly the Queen allied with them and a few other African nations and pitted the
two against each other. It was her idea, that the Dutch would finish off the Portuguese and then she would turn on the Dutch. Queen Nzinga was a states woman much ahead of her time. War ensued for a year and the Warrior Queen passed a law that was probably her most notable achievement. She declared that all the territory in Angola, over which she had Authority, would forever be free of Slavery. This caused many Africans to rally behind her, and even caused many of the Portuguese army to defect and join her side. She then became a Thorn in the side of the Portuguese that was never relieved. In the book "Black Women in Antiquity", Ivan Van Sertima described her as:
…an astute agitator-propagandist who could easily summon large groups of her fellow countrymen to listen to her. In convincing her people of the pernicious influences of the Portuguese, she would single out slaves and "slave-soldiers" who were under Portuguese control and direct political and patriotic messages their way, appealing to their pride in being Africans.
In essence, she could be seen as one of the forerunners of the pan-African, Black Power movements that exist today. She really appealed to the pride of her people, and her experiment paid off. For the next 30 years, the rest of her life, the Portuguese were unable to subdue the African kingdom. The Angolan resistance movement of the 1600's was not all fun and games. The Africans felt many setbacks, and the Queen herself suffered greatly. In one event the Portuguese sacked her Island stronghold in the Cuanza River, trying to kill her.
In doing so they captured one of her sisters. She and some of her soldiers went for the hills. Everyone in Mbundu, down to the youngest conscious child knew she would return. Even though the Portuguese celebrated and told the people their Queen was dead. They'd say things like "She just left, though she will return." As they said she did, and racked up victory after victory under the benefit of surprise. That wasn't the only time she had to exit her lands. A few years later the Europeans attacked her Island again. Again she left the nation, this time telling her top lieutenants to express to her people that she had died! The cries of sadness and instruments of mourning could be heard from village to village. The military mastermind was just lying in wait though. She went to her former rivals the Jaga peoples and asked for an alliance. She promised to marry their king. She also went to a kingdom in the southern Kongo, and formed an alliance. They both agreed and again she struck at the invaders. This time, with the ferocity of the Jaga and Kongo behind her. In 1641, the Dutch captured the Portuguese stronghold of Luanda. The Queen then moved her capital out of the Cuanza River, and into territory that they had captured from the Portuguese. She couldn't hold on to the land long and was pushed back into Mbundu controlled lands. After capturing her new capital, they took her other sister, got to her files and realized that she was in constant contact with the first sister who was captured so many years back. As punishment, they did
awful things to her, decapitated and threw her body in to the Cuanza River. Sadly, the Queen was not immortal. After reaching her late 70's she realized she did not have long left on the Earth, and in a great compromise, she signed a treaty with the Portuguese, allowing them to keep the land they had, and not to encroach anymore upon Mbundu. She died at the old age of 81, and shortly after she died, the Portuguese tried to capture the rest of the country. They failed and were completely unable until, on paper they did at the Berlin conference of 1885. To the Angolans credit, Portugal did not control the whole land until administratively 1951! The people of Southwest Africa were not happy about Portugal's presence. In 1956 the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola was created and in 1966 the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola was formed. One a beneficiary of the Soviet Union, and the other, of the United States. Blinded by their need for independence, they allowed the great powers of the world to control them, and cause one of the biggest indirect wars between the USSR and USA. The Legacy is of Nzinga, and her people's independent nature is very strong. They never gave up the fight. For over 500 years, they went against Europeans, and didn't back down. Because of this spirit, as well as the vast resources in the country, Angola has the fastest growing Economy in Africa, as well as one of the fastest in the world. If present trends continue, there is a wonderful future for the industrious people of Mbundu.
Figure 1Peace Conference
Figure 2Queen Nzinga
Van Sertima, Ivan. Black women in antiquity. New Brunswick [N.J.] U.S.A: Transaction Books, 1984. Williams, Chancellor. Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Chicago: Third World P, 1987. A., Rogers, J. World's Great Men of Color. New York: Touchstone, 1996. Clarke, John Henrik. Who Betrayed the African World Revolution? And Other Speeches. New York: Third World P, 1993. Wolfe, Adam. "PINR - The Increasing Importance of African Oil." The Power and Interest News Report (PINR). 20 Mar. 2006. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.pinr.com/report.php? ac=view_report&report_id=460&language_id=1>. "Ana Nzinga: Queen of Ndongo | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: metmuseum.org. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pwmn_2/hd_pwmn_2.htm>.
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