Njinga Mbandi

Njinga Mbandi (1581–1663), Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, defined much of the history of seventeenth-century Angola. A deft diplomat, skilful negotiator and formidable tactician, Njinga resisted Portugal’s colonial designs tenaciously until her death in 1663.

Pedagogical Unit

Njinga, an inexhaustible source of inspiration


Since her outmanoeuvring of the Governor, João Correia de Sousa, during the 1622 peace-treaty negotiations in Luanda, Njinga Mbandi has been acknowledged as an enduring source of inspiration.

Her charisma and the complexity of her personality unfailingly fascinated the missionaries with whom she came into contact, but have also fascinated authors in Europe, Africa and Brazil and, more generally, artists in all countries. Moreover, Nzinga has inspired the religious rites of people of African descent throughout the world.

Illustration of Nzinga Mbandi by the French illustrator Achille Devéria, 1830.

Plural and symbolic identities

Njinga’s name is written in a variety of ways, partly on account of orthographic issues arising from the transcription of the Kimbundu language, but also because the Queen herself used different names to sign her letters. The last were given to her when she converted to Catholicism in Luanda in 1623.

Non-exhaustive list: Njinga Mbande, Njinga Mbandi, Nzinga, Jinga, Singa, Zhinga, Ginga, Njingha, Ana Njinga, Ngola Njinga, Njinga of Matamba, Zinga, Zingua, Mbande Ana Njinga, Ann Njinga and Dona Ana de Sousa.

In Portuguese, the verb "gingar" denotes a movement of the body. Used figuratively, the verb conveys the idea of flexibility in the face of obstacles, especially during negotiations, in reference to Queen Nzinga.

Nzinga in the arts in past centuries

In 1687, in a book dedicated to the double queen, the Italian priest Cavazzi described the famous 1622 meeting in Luanda between Nzinga and Correia de Sousa, the Portuguese Governor, at which a peace treaty was negotiated. When the Queen arrived in the reception room, the governor did not offer her a chair on which to sit. Stung by this action, she ordered one of her servants to crouch on all fours to make a seat for her, thus subtly suggesting that she had come to negotiate on an equal footing. This act inspired the priest Cavazzi to capture the scene in a now famous painting.

In 1769, the French author Jean-Louis Castilhon published "Zingha, Reine d’Angola" [Nzinga, Queen of Angola], the first historical novel to be written on Africa from an anti-colonialist standpoint. The novel, depicting the queen as a rich, paradoxical and complex character, caused quite a stir.

In 1830, Achille Devéria, the French illustrator, fired by enthusiasm after reading portrayals of the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, decided to draw her portrait. His imaginary depiction of Njinga was widely accepted in Europe as the official portrait of Queen Njinga.

The negotiation between Nzinga Mbandi and the vice-King of Portugal in the book "Nzinga, Reine d’Angola. La Relation d’Antonio Cavazzi de Montecuccolo", 1687.

Nzinga in the arts today

Njinga has inspired many authors and artists in recent times. The following are but a few examples:

• In 1960, Agostinho Neto wrote the poem "O Içar da Bandeira" [Raising the Banner] in tribute to the Angolan people’s heroes, with reference to Nzinga.

• In 1975, Manuel Pedro Pacavira published the novel "Njinga Mbandi".

• Njinga also inspired the eponymous film made in 2007 by Octávio Bezerra, the Brazilian film director.

Poster of the film 'Nzinga' directed by the Brazilian director Octavio Bezerra, 2007.

Représentations religieuses dans des communautés d’Afro-descendants

Njinga has inspired many religions of African origin. In Haiti, in a variant of voodoo, Njinga is symbolized as a Bantu-Ewe-Fon character.

In Brazil, she is portrayed in Candomblé (an Afro-Brazilian religion) as the character ‘Matamba’ – the Lady of Thunder, a warrior chieftain and a friend of the heroes. Women seeking the strength to solve their problems ritually invoke her.

The Congada procession in Brazil. Photograph by Luciano Osorio, 2011.

Njinga also features in the Brazilian tradition of Congada, a religious rite that blends African traditions and European culture, performed in homage to black saints. In this rite, the coronation of the King of Kongo and Queen Nzinga symbolize the advent of Christianity in Angola and Brazil.

The figure of Matamba in Candomblé.
Photograph by Ana Alves, 2012.