because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Because a Wise Woman prophesied that Nzingha would be a queen one day, her father, the king of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms in West Africa in the late 1500's, used to let her follow him around -- not only into court, but into war. So she was already well prepared at sixteen-years-old to be the envoy who represented her people at a major sit-down with the Portuguese in 1599.

The Portuguese, of course, were interested in working a deal whereby they would have a lock on the slave acquisition market in the area and no doubt believed that their superior firepower and European sophistication would carry the day for them. Actually, when the dust settled and everybody went home, Nzingha had negotiated an arrangement that included the Portuguese abandoning the fortress they had established at Ambaca in 1618, calling off the African mercenaries they were using to build up their stock of slaves, and returning some of those they already taken.

As the story goes, the Portuguese governor tried to humiliate Nzingha out the gate by providing only a mat (rather than a chair) for her to sit on during the negotiations, knowing that, among her people, sitting lower meant accepting a position of less status. Undaunted, Nzingha simply had one of her attendants get down on all fours on the mat so she could sit on his back and look the governor in his startled eyes.

The Portuguese, of course, never honored their agreements, so Nzingha formed an alliance with the Dutch and spent the rest of her days leading troops into battle against them. And despite the continual efforts of her enemies -- both African and European -- to dethrone her, Nzingha stayed in power and died in her bed at the age of eighty. Did she murder her brother and his son to gain the throne in the first place? Maybe. Did she embrace Christianity to manipulate Europeans into trusting her? Could be. Regardless, she did what in-your-face women do: what they think will work to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

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