Arts, Culture & Media

African Queen

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Queen Nzinga (also spelled Njinga) once ruled what is now the African nation of Angola. The seat of Queen Nzinga's power was Angola's largest city, where there's still a statue of the 17th century Queen, in Kinaxixi Square. "Njinga, she appears to be very tall, her head is lifted up so she's looking out. She has bangles on her hand, also she has a battle axe. She was known for her military prowess. Noone could use the battle axe like Njinga," says Linda Heywood who teaches African American studies at Boston University. Elegant but powerful, Queen Nzinga was rumored to have practiced human sacrifice and ruled with a heavy hand. During her reign she often corresponded with the Pope, urging Rome to send more missionaries. So can you name this African capital city, where Queen Nzinga took on powerful Portuguese invaders and lived to tell the tale? The answer is the Angolan capital, Luanda. Queen Njinga's legacy is still evident in Angola today, according to Heywood who's also writing a book on the African queen. "When she was born, actually, it was just a few years into the Portuguese presence on the coast of Angola in the capital which they named Luanda, which is still the capital today." Heywood says it was ground zero back when British and French slave traders began to compete with the Portuguese along the coast of Africa. But Queen Nzinga stood in their way. As they conquered land near what would become Angola, the Portuguese spent a lot of time wooing the queen. And in Luanda Queen Nzinga used all the power she could muster to try to negotiate treaties: "When Nzinga arrives she comes with a whole train of people, she's dressed in her traditional robes and when she comes into negotiate, the Portuguese want her to sit on the carpet on the floor as the usual thing that they had done with other regional representatives. But she refused to do that and so she actually called over one of her servant maids, who got down on all fours and Nzinga actually negotiated from the back of the maid," explains Heywood. But negotiations failed and Nzinga led a war of resistance against the Portuguese for the next 30 years. Queen Nzinga lived till the age of 80, dying in the 1660"²s. But her legacy was resurrected three centuries later, during Angola's fight against Portuguese colonization. Heywood says Nzinga was part of a strategy of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, now Angola's ruling party. "When they started off they had to find ways of mobilizing the population to join them in resisting the Portuguese and one of the strategies that their own intellectuals was to look back at Angola's history for heroes and heroines and Nzinga was right there." Even today, says Heywood, Queen Nzinga is right there in Luanda's Kinaxixi Square, where newlyweds can often be seen posing and taking pictures in front of Nzinga's statue "They believe that going to the statue and taking pictures there after getting married in a church legitimizes their connection and history to Nzinga," says Linda Heywood. This Geo Quiz was produced by The World's intern, Zuzanna Sitek. If you come across historical statues that tell a story about a place in the world, we would like to hear about it: tell us by leaving a comment below.

  • Queen Nzinga

  • Queen Nzinga

  • Linda Heywood (Image courtesy of Boston University)

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