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Queen Nzinga against the Portuguese

Portugal held onto the island of Principe (a little to the northwest of São Tomé) and a spot of land (roughly 200 by 200 kilometers) called Portuguese Guinea. In 1623, the Portuguese signed a peace treaty with Ndongo – east of Luanda and populated primarily by Mbundu. In 1624, a warrior queen, Nzinga, succeeded to the throne in Ndongo. She objected to Portuguese violations of the treaty. She welcomed slaves that had run away from the Portuguese colony. She called on Africans under Portuguese rule to rebel and she acquired African soldiers who had been trained by the Portuguese. The Portuguese drove her from Ndongo and replaced her with a puppet ruler. Nzinga and her army fled north and conquered the kingdom of Matamba, from which she continued to war against the Portuguese. Nzinga formed an alliance with the Dutch, and at her request the Dutch sent her a militia of soldiers, the officer commanding the militia describing her as valiant, cunning and a "prudent virago" in command of both her slaves and her soldiers.

Queen Nzinga envisioned command of a great empire. Thousands of slave soldiers deserted to her. She attempted to bring various kings and heads of families to her fight against the Portuguese. In 1645 and 1646 she suffered military setbacks at the hands of the Portuguese, and she wondered whether the god of the Portuguese was stronger than her own god, Tem-Bon-Dumba. She had heard the Jesuits say that the Christian god was just and an enemy of all who suffered. She could not resolve this and the fact that the Portuguese were invading her country, but she decided to worship the god of the Portuguese to test its power.

Queen Nzinga's alliance with the Dutch came to nothing as the Portuguese drove the Dutch from Luanda in 1648. The Dutch had lost their hold on Brazil and places on the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as their colonies in North America and their ability to trade on the Atlantic.

Queen Nzinga was facing the superior weaponry of the Portuguese. By the time she was at least seventy-five years old she had lost many of her faithful assistants. Some of those close to her had grown tired of fighting the Portuguese. Nzinga signed a treaty giving the Portuguese alone access to Matamba's markets – the Portuguese concerned about competition from the Dutch, English and French.

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