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Nzinga was born to ngola Kia Samba and Guenguela Cakombe around 1583] She was related to Nzinga Mhemba, who was baptized as Alfonso in 1491 by the Portuguese.
Nzinga also had two sisters: Mukumbu, or Lady Barbara and Kifunji, or Lady Grace. Nzinga’s father, was ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms which governed the Mbundu people. When Kia Samba was dethroned some time in the 1610s, his illegitimate son, Mbandi, took power and Nzinga was forced to leave the kingdom since she was his challenger to the throne.
According to tradition, she was named Njinga because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbundu verb kujinga means to twist or turn). It was said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would be proud and haughty, and a wise woman told her mother that Nzinga would become queen one day. According to her recollections later in life, she was greatly favoured by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war. She also had a brother, Mbandi, and two sisters, Kifunji and Mukambu. She lived during a period when the Atlantic slave trade and the consolidation of power by the Portuguese in the region were growing rapidly.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portuguese shifted their slave-trading activities to the Congo and South West Africa. Mistaking the title of the ruler, ngola, for the name of the country, the Portuguese called the land of the Mbundu people “Angola”—the name by which it is still known today.
Nzinga first appears in historical records as the envoy of her brother, the ngiolssa Ngola Mbandi, at a peace conference with the Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa in Luanda in 1622.
In 1657, weary from the long struggle, Nzinga signed a peace treaty with Portugal. The church “re-accepted” Nzinga in 1656. She converted again to Catholicism in 1657. Along with the Capuchins, she promoted churches in her kingdom. After the wars with Portugal ended, she attempted to rebuild her nation, which had been seriously damaged by years of conflict and over-farming. She was anxious that Njinga Mona’s Imbangala not succeed her as ruler of the combined kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba, and inserted language in the treaty that bound Portugal to assist her family to retain power. Lacking a son to succeed her, she tried to vest power in the Ngola Kanini family and arranged for her sister to marry João Guterres Ngola Kanini and to succeed her. This marriage, however, was not allowed, as priests maintained that João had a wife in Ambaca. She returned to the Christian church to distance herself ideologically from the Imbangala, and took a Kongo priest Calisto Zelotes dos Reis Magros as her personal confessor. She permitted Capuchin missionaries, first Antonio da Gaeta and the Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo to preach to her people. Both wrote lengthy accounts of her life, kingdom, and strong will.
Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. Titus 2:8
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Col 4:6