Here’s another one of my favorite Rejected Princesses — Nzinga Mbande, 17th-century queen of what is now Angola.
She began her political life as her nation of Ndongo was fighting off a Portuguese invasion. Her brother, a by-all-accounts wimp, seemingly could not bend over backwards far enough for the Portuguese, and once he ascended to the throne, the Portuguese just tossed him in jail and took over. Nzinga approached the Portuguese and demanded her brother’s return and that they leave Ndongo. At their meeting, in a sign of disrespect, the Portuguese offered her no chair to sit in, instead providing merely a floor mat fit for servants.
In response, Nzinga ordered one of her servants to get on all fours, sitting on her as she would a chair. After the negotiations concluded, according to some accounts (more on that later), she slit her throat in full view of everyone, and informed them that the Queen of Ndongo does not use the same chair twice. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese agreed to let her brother go.
With her brother now safely back home, she is said (again, more on that later) to have murdered him in his sleep, killed her brother’s son, and assumed the throne herself - because if you’re going to do something right, you better do it yourself. From there, she moved south, started a new country, conquered the infamous ruthless cannibal tribe known as the Jaga, began offering sanctuary to runaway slaves and defector soldiers, and waged war on the Portuguese for THIRTY FIVE YEARS.
Now, you may have noticed that I have repeatedly used words like “supposedly” and “according to some accounts.” As with many powerful historical women (as you’ll come to see as you read more of these entries), her story is a mixture of fact and fiction, with the two difficult to separate. That she met with the Portuguese and that she sat on her servant’s back is generally agreed by historians to be accurate. Furthermore, there is no doubt that she was a thorn in the side of the Portuguese, that she founded a new nation, or that she was a great leader.
Where it begins to fall to suspicion is in the more salacious rumors. While some report that she murdered her brother, others report that her brother committed suicide. Her slitting the servant girl’s neck and proclaiming her need for one-use chairs is likely hyperbole. Other outlandish rumors, to be taken with a brick of salt, include:
- After killing her brother’s family, she ate their hearts to absorb their courage.
- As a pre-battle ritual, she decapitated slaves and drank their blood.
- She maintained a 60-man-strong harem throughout her life — this one, best I can tell, is more regarded as true than most of the others.
- The men in her harem would fight each other to the death for the right to share her bed for the night. This one is more doubtful.
- She also apparently dressed some of them like women.
- Conversely, she staffed her army with a large number of women warriors.
It is difficult to determine how much of this is fact and how much fiction — it is entirely possible that she stirred up some of this as her own PR in the war against Portugal, and it is entirely possible some of it was a smear campaign by her enemies. Based off my (ongoing) research, a lot seems to stem from a book called Zingha, Reine d’Angola by Jean-Louis Castilhon. The book is in French, though, and I haven’t been able to find much English-language information on it yet.
Anyways, after decades of killing the Portuguese (both militarily and economically, cutting off their trade routes), they eventually threw their hands up and negotiated a peace treaty. She died several years afterwards, at the ripe old age of eighty-one. There are statues of her all over Angola to this day.
I will continue to update this entry as I am able to uncover more reliable information about her. It’s surprisingly hard.
- Her outfit and axe are derived directly from one of the statues around Angola.
- The servant she used as a chair was female, not male. I realized this after the fact. Eep!
- She’s wiping a bit of something red from her mouth as a reference to the blood-ingesting legends.