Who Was Queen Njinga in Netflix’s ‘African Queens’? What Was the Story Behind?

Who Was Queen Njinga in Netflix's 'African Queens

Queen Njinga in Netflix’s ‘African Queens’ – The new Netflix documentary series African Queens: Njinga premiere coincides with the United States’ observance of Black History Month. A preview episode suggests that “African Queens” is part of a series highlighting various African female leaders. The first adaptation centers on Queen Njinga, who reigned over the Central African kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba from 1624 to 1663. the documentary and real parts of the narrative are still incredibly intriguing and compelling, although “African Queens: Njinga” lays a lot more emphasis on dramatic scenes and retellings of the historical events. But, the show’s extraordinary story of the fierce Queen Njinga is overshadowed by the dramatizations that detract from the show’s overall appeal.

Who Was Queen Njinga

Who Was Queen Njinga?

Each episode of the show has the same basic structure: Jada Pinkett Smith, the show’s executive producer, provides narration, and eminent historians and subject-matter specialists describe the events and how much of it has been proven to have actually occurred. There are also reconstructions of historical events that were dramatized for the screen. The presentation opened in the Ndongo region in 1617, then ruled by the “Ngola,” an alternative name for the local king. Yet, things were rapidly changing for the indigenous inhabitants as vicious and furious European invaders had already arrived.

The Portuguese, who at the time had the most successful colonization trade in the world, had been colonizing Ndongo for the past fifty years. This puts the Ngola under stress throughout the time, and it was during this time that he was away that he was training his eldest daughter, Njinga, to be a warrior.

Historically, the divide-and-conquer tactic has been a reliable go-to for European imperialists like the Portuguese, and it appears that they are employing it once more. Because of their close relationship to the kings or rulers, the “sobas,” or noblemen, performed the second most important position in administration and rule in the African monarchy system at the time.

The invaders sought out these sobas and rewarded some of them handsomely to sow discord and rebellion inside the Ndongo kingdom. Hence, the Ngola of the period, Njinga’s father, had to cope with the sobas insurrection and the Portuguese, and it is shown that he consulted his council. He put his eldest daughter in charge of the Kabasa capital while he dealt with the revolting sobas, even though he had two sons.

If the Ngola’s own troops, which the sobas had corrupted, killed him, he may have decided to give up the fight. Because of the loss of the Ngola throne, there was also the problem of who would assume leadership. Njinga had two brothers who were vying for the throne because it was still unprecedented for a woman to lead an entire kingdom’s army, let alone serve as queen. The eldest brother, Mbande, was concerned that others might not share his opinion that he was the rightful heir because he was the son of the Ngola with a different woman and not the legitimate queen.

Mbande had these doubts and didn’t want to take any chances, so he ordered the deaths of his own people, any of whom could have ascended to the kingdom in the future. Both of Njinga’s brothers and sisters were there, including Njinga’s young son. Njinga’s anger towards Mbande stemmed from the latter’s refusal to recognize the futility of her son’s death. Njinga, however, would not disobey her tribe’s customs to be with her brother and the reigning king. Instead, she voluntarily left the realm, went into exile, and considered other methods of expelling the Portuguese.

In order to aid the European invaders, the native mercenary organisation or tribe known as the Imbangala had been offering help. Afterwards, Njinga connected with an Imbangala tribesman and allied himself with a man named Kasa. As for the Portuguese side, Mbande, the king of Kabasa, and his colony were officially labeled as enemies by the Portuguese authorities. Eventually, Njinga ascended to the throne as the Lady King of Ndongo after Mbande’s already shaky grip on his country’s inhabitants and outsiders finally collapsed.

Njinga was always firm in her decision to rid her country and the land of the Portuguese because she believed they were terrible. At the time, the Portuguese were expanding into Africa for two main reasons: 

(a) to convert the indigenous dark-skinned tribes to Christianity (whom the Portuguese viewed as “savages”), and 

(b) to expand the Portuguese empire by enslaving locals to work on their extensive Latin American plantations.

Throughout her reign, Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba worked tirelessly to either completely prohibit or significantly complicate the European slave trade. Because of the queen’s obstruction of trade routes, the Portuguese and the Dutch were forced to negotiate with Njinga over the heinous practice of slave trading.

One of the series’ experts claims that Njinga successfully defended her people from the Europeans and became the only African woman ruler publicly recognized by the Europeans. The documentary “African Queens: Njinga” details the woman’s incredible achievements and highlights pivotal occasions that cemented her place in history.

How Did Queen Njinga Fight Against The Portuguese

How Did Queen Njinga Fight Against The Portuguese?

One of the show’s best qualities is that Njinga is kept from her original image as a strong leader with her own goals and ambitions. Njinga always worked for her own ambitions, yet she also felt a strong need to serve her people and her kingdom. Her father had urged her to succeed in the kingdom, but she could not do so after he died. Instead, brother Mbande had assumed the role relatively suddenly, despite his lack of qualifications to rule the country effectively. A loss of prestige among his own people led to Mbande’s depression.

The fact that he was found to have poison in his system has prompted most historians to conclude that Njinga murdered him, despite the lack of any hard proof to back up this claim. If true, Njinga chose this because her mentally and intellectually weak brother was unfit to continue serving the throne. Njinga, however, required a king to ensure that she was the legitimate queen of the country and not simply the ceremonial queen, so she once again sought the help of the Imbangala leader Kasa. But Njinga’s goal was clear, and like Mbande before her, she did not want to leave any doubt about who was rightfully sitting on the throne.

Njinga effectively served as monarch until Mbande’s young son attained adulthood and ascended the throne. She married Kasa, made him king, and declared herself queen to silence Mbande forever. When he tried to stop her, she brutally murdered his son. It’s possible that Mbande had previously killed her own young kid and that this was an act of retribution for her. Kasa quickly stopped his marriage to Njinga after learning that he was schooling the chief’s little son in his camp. Because of this, she became the sole ruler of the realm.

Without attributing any moral superiority to her actions, Njinga used similar tactics against all of her enemies. The Portuguese was always her number one enemy, therefore she fought them with all the power and support she could muster. Njinga was usually against the Portuguese kidnapping of people as slaves and sending them off the continent as labourers, despite the many diplomatic efforts between the two parties.

As diplomatic avenues dried up and tensions rose, the Portuguese, led by a series of governors on different dates, eventually invaded Njinga as well. Two of her younger sisters, Kambu and Funji, were taken as hostages by the Portuguese during their siege of Kabasa’s central city. Queen Njinga kept fighting them and did everything in her power to disrupt the slave trade routes, including releasing large numbers of captives on occasion to help with the war effort.

Once things deteriorated with Kasa, she decided to team up with Kasanje, the most vicious and dreaded leader of the Imbangala. She agreed to marry Kasanje and take the title of queen, but only on the condition that she continues her role as a warrior and accept Imbangala traditions in place of her own. To exert more pressure on the Portuguese, Njinga expanded her rule; with the help of Kasanje, she even overthrew the kingdom of Matamba.

Njinga did not think twice about recruiting Europeans as allies when the time was right, and the show’s depiction of her suggests her character’s openness to diverse cultures. Njinga was not keen on using white people’s cultural dominance as a weapon against the colonizers, but she was willing to do so if it meant protecting her people’s way of life. During her court’s diplomatic connections with Portugal, she converted to Christianity by the process of baptism, and eventually, she allowed her people to do the same.

Njinga decided to side with the Portuguese archrivals in Africa when the Dutch invaded the continent. Njinga likely planned on taking on each enemy independently, but her council and perhaps even her personal understanding indicated that the Dutch would behave similarly to the Portuguese. The Dutch ultimately decided against using their own forces to seize control of the Portuguese slave smuggling routes and companies.

As it turned out, they weren’t much help to Njinga either; after planning to attack a Portuguese fort with Njinga’s army, they had to scrap the idea when they learned that the Portuguese had recruited more soldiers in Luanda. After one of her sisters, Funji, was killed by a governor, Njinga plotted to storm the fort to rescue her other sister, Kambu. But her plan went awry when the Dutch army was forced to retreat to Luanda, and the Portuguese eventually pushed the Dutch totally out of Africa.

How effective were Queen Njinge's initiatives

How Effective were Queen Njinge’s initiatives?

Njinge, Queen, seems to have spent her last years focusing on two things: freeing her people from European slavery and protecting her son, Kambu, who would have succeeded her as ruler. She ran into the priest who had baptized her and two other Capuchin priests. In the end, she saw that the Catholic Church could unite all of these conquerors and invaders under the leadership of the Pope. Queen Njinge started writing to Pope Alexander VII, asking to be recognized as the Christian ruler of Ndongo.

She was certain that the King of Portugal and the other European countries would bow to her rule once the Pope acknowledged her authority. For years, she wrote letters to the Portuguese in Ndongo with no response, but eventually, the Portuguese decided to end their hostilities with her. They returned Kambu to Njinge, and after Njinge’s death, Kambu became the next queen. Njinge’s family line, which she had protected so carefully, continued with three more queens.

In a letter to Njinge written in 1661, the Pope recognized her as the Christian monarch of the kingdom of Ndongo, and her subjects were immediately released from servitude. Yet, as time went on and the profits from the slave trade grew rapidly, European invaders gradually took control of the whole African continent. This rapid growth in riches is mainly responsible for America’s and Europe’s continued dominance today.

Ndongo also fell several years after Njinge did, and it is now part of modern-day Angola in Central-West Africa. Njinge’s history as the warrior queen was mainly forgotten after her reign, but it was brought back to the forefront by local independence fighters in the 1960s. While Angola was still under Portuguese administration, the soldiers were inspired by Njinge, the country’s progenitor. In this way, Angola was able to achieve its independence in 1975.

African Queens: Njinga,” a documentary series, is currently streaming on Netflix.

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