by Sarah Pusteblume | Apr 24, 2020 | Asia, Contemporary (1914 - today), Kazakhstan |
This week I’m taking you to Soviet Kazakhstan, when World War II was just beginning, and one girl was determined to fight for her Motherland. Even though she was rejected at first and later only assigned clerk duty, she taught herself how to use a machine gun and eventually became Hero of the Soviet Union. That was not only the highest military honor, but she was the first Kazakh woman to receive it. Her name is Manshuk Mametova and I want to take you along on the wild ride that was her life.
In 1922 in Zhaksus, a small village in the steppe of the Ural Region in Kazakhstan, a shoe maker and his wife welcomed their fifth child into the world, a daughter they named Mansia. Little Manshuk, as her mother affectionately called her, spent her childhood learning to ride before she could even walk and spending long nights around the yurt’s hearth, listening to stories about heroes and heroines, adventures and fairytales. Sometimes her aunt Amina would visit from Alma-Ata, and tell stories of a city built of stone. When she was around three or five years old, her parents sent her to live with her aunt as it was custom. (Well, it was custom to send the child to its grandparents, but they had died already, so she was sent to her aunt instead.) It seems that soon after her parents died, or maybe they died before and she was adopted then – sources are unclear. What is certain however, is that her aunt took her with her and she grew up in the capital.
Her childhood in Alma-Ata seems to have been a very happy one, filled with the scent of apple trees growing all over the city. Her aunt was a strict but loving woman and every word of appreciation would make the little girl beam with joy. And when she was old enough to go to school, she soon felt like she had gained a second family. She loved to learn and the other girls loved her for her enthusiasm and kindness. In the picture you can see her on the top right with two of her classmates. As the years passed by, Manshuk learned more and more about her nation and learned to love its vast beauty. Especially Moscow stole her heart and she would dream of walking over the Red Square for years to come.
After graduating, she entered a medical school program and later the Alma-Ata Medical Institute. At some point in her medical education, she took a job at the Secretariat of the Council of People’s Commissars, which aimed to fuse Kazakh culture with Soviet values. Life was good. She had a job she liked, friends and family she adored and soon, soon she would finally see Moscow! It was the Summer of 1941 and 18-year-old Manshuk was planning to go see a sports parade. But it was not meant to be. Nazi Germany had bombed Sevastopol, Odessa and Kiev and was now approaching Moscow.
Even though the war was still far from Alma-Ata, Manshuk was one of the first to volunteer at the local recruitment office. Inspired not only by her love for the Soviet Union and her country, but also by the countless stories she grew up with, Manshuk wanted to take an active part in defending her homeland.
Even though the Red Army accepted women into their ranks, her request to go to the frontlines was rejected. But she persisted. It took one year until she was finally accepted into the Army – however only as a desk clerk instead of a warrior. It was a first step though and so Manshuk became a secretary and later a nurse as well. But still she dreamt of being a warrior. And so, between her administrative duties and her work in the local field hospital, she taught herself how to shoot a machine gun. Eventually she was asked to show her skills to her superior and she didn’t miss a single target. Impressed, her commander assigned her to the 100th Rifle Brigade and finally, in October 1942, she was on her way to the frontlines.
Her Regiment fought well and soon Manshuk had earned not only the rank of Senior Sergeant but also the respect and trust of her comrades. Never did she part with her beloved gun. But it wasn’t only battle that happened on the front lines but life as well. Manshuk made friends and shared stories of home with them. Sometimes she would get a letter or a parcel from home and it would remind her of the sunny days in an apple-scented city that she so passionately defended. However she did find something on the front that she didn’t back home: she fell in love. In a letter to her sister she wrote about fellow machine gunner Nurken Khusainov and how it was impossible now to act on her feelings. Apparently Nurken thought the same and so it remained unfulfilled. For their next assignment would mean death for both of them.
On October 15, 1943, Manshuk and her regiment fought to liberate the city of Nevel on Russia’s western border – a difficult battle from the get-go, as the Germans occupied higher ground. The Soviets still weren’t able to advance after hours of battle, but continued to suffer heavy casualties, Nurken among them. To find a better spot to attack and to give the Germans another front to worry about, Manshuk and another machine gunner broke away from their unit. Soon they found what they were looking for: a small hill on the flank of the German army with a barricade for machine gunners on top. They quietly killed the enemy soldiers occupying the post and opened fire. The unexpected attack broke the German counter-offensive and finally the Soviets were able to advance.
Crawling between three different machine gun posts the two gunners relentlessly fired on the enemy, trying to avoid being hit themselves. At some point Manshuk was knocked out by a mortar shell, but regained consciousness and continued her assault. More than once her comrade asked her to retreat, but she refused. She knew that as soon as they stopped shooting they will be overrun and everyone else will die as well. The battle had waged for an hour when a grenade hit their post, immediately killing her comrade and mortally wounding her. Even so, Manshuk would not let go of her gun. With her last strength and nothing to lose, she occupied the best possible position and continued shooting until her last breath. It might have been her who finally turned the tides of the battle and without her the Red Army would not have been able to liberate Nevel.
Her body was recovered after the battle, her hands still clutching her gun, and buried in the city’s cemetery. For her bravery, she was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honor in the USSR. There are also a bunch of statues, one in Nevel for example and one in Almaty (that’s what Alma-Ata is called now), and streets and schools are named after her (including her former High School) and there are songs about her! Even though she wasn’t able to return to her beloved hometown, I think Manshuk Mametova would have been proud to know she is remembered for making a difference. And maybe that she now has her own folk tales as well.
by Sarah Pusteblume | Mar 27, 2020 | Europe, France, Middle Ages (500 - 1500 AD) |
The story I’m telling you today is a relatively short one, but exciting nonetheless! While Jeanne was definitely a real person, the accounts on her life differ from source to source, but one thing is clear, she was a total badass. When her city was attacked, many of the women living there refused to be bystanders and joined the fight – including 18 year old Jeanne, who grabbed a hatchet and played a key role in defending the city from capture. But let’s start at the beginning.
Born around 1454 in the city of Beauvais, her real last name was either Fourquet or Laisné. She might have been the daughter of a butcher and, after her father’s death, could have been adopted by one of the city guards, which would explain the different names. Whatever the case, she was apparently not unfamiliar with blades. Another story tells that since childhood, she adored her namesake Jeanne d’Arc and dreamt of being like her someday. And she got her chance.
Fast forward to 1472 when the Duke of Burgundy, who was revolting against the King – long story and not all that important for this article – advanced on Beauvais with an army of 80.000. They had already laid waste to the surrounding villages in an especially brutal fashion, hoping to scare the city into surrender. On June 27, workers on the cathedral roof spotted the approaching army and raised the alarm. The first onslaught was overwhelming. While Beauvais was well fortified, it had no artillery and the Burgundian soldiers were climbing the wall. Swiftly one of the suburbs was taken and there was a huge hole in one of the city gates. But the city didn’t surrender. Instead the citizens took up arms and threw themselves into battle – and not only the men, but women and children as well. Hot water, oil and molten lead were poured on the enemy soldiers storming the gate, men and women were blocking the gate, armed with whatever was available, sometimes only with their fists. But slowly they were losing ground and slowly their courage wavered.
Amidst all this chaos, 18-year-old Jeanne grabbed a hatchet and climbed the city walls with a band of women, all armed for combat. The Burgundians were still scaling the walls and the women got to work, shoving enemies back down and toppling ladders. Some soldiers got through though and one of them was intent on planting the Burgundian flag on top of the wall, a sign of victory. Jeanne swiftly threw him into the moat, holding the flag high over her head. This reignited the bravery of her fellow fighters and the battle waged on. At some point the broken gate was set on fire and kept aflame to make it harder for the enemies to enter.
For two weeks they kept the flames burning until the Duke decided to attack another portion of town. Cannonballs destroyed big parts of the city, but he couldn’t get through the walls to conquer it. Even though Beauvais didn’t have any artillery, the defenders – many of them women – were valiant and quite inventive, hurling stones, torches and boiling water at the enemy. Wherever the soldiers attacked, a defense system was already in place, keeping them at bay.
On July 22nd, after almost a month of fighting, the Duke had to retreat. He lost around 3.000 men, including about 20 lords against a city that had no ranged weaponry and an army that mainly consisted of citizens, many of them women – a humiliating defeat.
A defeat that might just have turned the tides of the Duke’s revolt. You see, he might have been able to beat the King… had he not wasted that much time on the city of Beauvais. As things were, he was forced to retreat to his own lands. The revolt had failed. King Louis XI recognized the contribution of the valiant citizens of Beauvais and granted the town certain privileges, like a lower tax rate. He also recognized the important role women had played in this defense and suspended the sumptuary laws which were common at the time. That means women were allowed to wear whatever clothing they liked, regardless of rank or gender norms.
And Jeanne? Jeanne was rewarded as well. Not only did she get money, but she and her descendants would never have to pay taxes, ever. Furthermore she was allowed to marry the man she loved, Collin Pillon, and some even say it was the King himself who held the ceremony.
That year the first Fêtes de l’Assaut (“Celebration of the Assault” – weird name, I know) is held with a procession through the city with Jeanne at the front, carrying the flag she conquered. Behind her the women of the city, honored for their inventiveness in ammunition. Since then this procession is held every year on the last weekend of June and it’s often called Fêtes Jeanne Hachette after our heroine and the name she became known for.
From then on her traces are lost in time. But her memory lives on forever in the town of Beauvais – their very own Jeanne d’Arc.
1: Jeanne Hachette Transformation cards (c. 1870, image cropped) – Steffen Völkel Rare Books – Link
2: “Beauvais (Oise, France) – Statue de Jeanne Hachette” (2008) by User Markus3 (Marc Roussel) in Wikimedia Commons – Link
3: “The women of Beauvais defending their city under Jeanne Hachette” from page 172 of “The story of the greatest nations, from the dawn of history to the twentieth century” by E.S. Ellis & C.F. Horne, 1900 – page scan uploaded to flickr by Internet Archive Book Images – Link
4: “La statue de Jeanne Hachette” by Béatrice Butstraen on her blog Les petits plats de Béa [French], 2018 – Link
by Sarah Pusteblume | Feb 28, 2020 | Africa, Ancient History (before 500 AD), Sudan |
This time I’m telling you about the time the Roman Empire set its mind to conquering the Kingdom of Kush where it was met by a fierce one-eyed warrior queen who would continue to fight back for seven years and eventually pushed Rome out of her country. This is the story of Amanirenas and you’re in for a ride.
We’re jumping right into the story as not much is known about Amanirenas’ early years, other than that she was born around 60 B.C. The story is set in the Nubian kingdom of Kush, a relatively small but quite powerful kingdom in what is now Sudan. Amanirenas became Kandake, Queen, of Kush after her husband died in battle around 40 B.C. In inscriptions about her she is titled Qore and Kandake, King and Queen, clearly showing her as the kingdom’s sole ruler. But enough with the foreword, let’s get into the warring bit, shall we?!
Amanirenas ruled her kingdom diligently and apparently without any major problems, but after ten years the Roman Empire took Egypt, their direct neighbor in the north. That alone would have been a blessing for Kush who would have lost their main competitor, but Rome turned its eyes south. Kush was a small kingdom and should the Romans truly wage war on them, their chances weren’t looking too good. However there was a bit of trouble on another front, namely Arabia, so they didn’t attack immediately. It’s not certain whether Amanirenas knew of Rome’s expansion plans, but since that was basically their whole deal, she probably anticipated it. So she struck first.
The first battles began in 27 B.C. but the big invasion came three years later. In 24 B.C. an army of 30.000 marched against Roman Egypt, Amanirenas and her son at the helm. Even though it seems to have been one of the battles that followed in which the Kandake lost her eye, the Kushites were ultimately successful.
They captured the cities of Syene and Philae as well as Elephantine Island, decapitating all the statues of Augustus Caesar they came across. Triumphant the Kushites returned home, with a rich bounty and war prisoners in tow – and at least one of Augustus’ bronze heads. However victory didn’t last long and in the same year the Romans pushed back, retaking their cities and advancing into Nubian territory. They took Kush’s old capital Napata and although they retreated north again relatively quickly it was a debilitating defeat.
Many Kushites were sold into slavery and the newly established Roman garrison at Primis proved undefeatable. But Amanirenas would not give in.
For three more years she waged war on the Romans. There are stories of war elephants as well as about the Kandake feeding war prisoners to her pet lion. The former are likely to be true, although Kush probably did not use elephants as much as Carthage did, while the latter might be an exaggeration but who is to say for certain.
Even though Amanirenas didn’t succeed in reconquering her land, the Romans had to give up eventually. Yes, Kush was small and its military strength inferior to that of their opponents, but it was also too far off to easily call on reinforcements and the goods needed to sustain an army. Add the harsh environment and significant armed resistance led by our heroine and it was just too much to handle.
Around 20 B.C. a peace treaty was forged that strongly favoured Kush. Rome was to retreat from their post at Primis and the surrounding lands (called Triakontaschoinos, the Thirty-Mile-Strip) and there was no tribute to be paid whatsoever. The Romans got to keep a smaller strip of land (the Dodekashoinos or ‘Twelve-Mile Lands’) to establish a military border zone, but apparently there were no subsequent attacks. In fact this peace treaty was honored until way after Amanirenas’ death around 10 B.C. and the Kushite Kingdom thrived for more than 300 years.
You might wonder why all we know about her is related to her military exploits. Well, most of the sources on her that exist are Roman. But even they had to admit she was brave and strong. While Kush did leave a fair share of inscriptions, they had their own system of hieroglyphs that no one has been able to really decipher to this day. They did leave us one obvious message though. Remember the decapitated statues? So, in 1912 a temple that had apparently been dedicated to victory was unearthed in Meroë, the new capital of Kush. In this temple, the archeologists found the bronze head of Augustus Caesar. It was found buried underneath the steps.
1: Map – User Gigillo83 in Wikimedia Commons, 2010 – modified: highlighted the places important to the story, added the modern border of Sudan and Egypt, added “Kush” to Nubia as called in the article – Link
2: Kandake Amanirenas as identified by JC Coovi Gomez on the Barwa’s Beg pyramid No. 6 (*Barwa was another name of Kush at that time. The Pyramids mentioned are located at Meroë.) – Link
3: The Pyramids at the foot of Jebel Barkal, Karima, Sudan (*where Amanirenas was likely buried) by Maurice Chédel, 1884 – Link
by Sarah Pusteblume | Feb 21, 2020 | Africa, Chad, Contemporary (1914 - today) |
This week’s article is mostly about the death of our heroine and the time shortly before that. She only lived to be 33 year old and much of her early life is unknown, but in her lifetime she made a true difference in her country, going from elite soldier to rebel, opposing a dictator and exposing his inhumane treatment of prisoners. This week I want to tell you the story of Rose Lokissim.
Rose was born around 1955 in a small and remote village in Chad, to one of her father’s wives. Not much is known about her childhood, other than that she was a calm and peaceful child with a strong will. By the time she was twelve, she was able to hold back her father in a fit of fury. Hardworking and ambitious, she refused to let her gender hold her back and by the time she was around 23, she joined the Chadian Army and went on to become one its first female elite soldiers.
When she joined the army, there was a civil war in full swing. The former President had been killed ca. three years prior and around one year later in 1979 rebel forces led by Hissène Habré took the capital, collapsing any kind of authority structure in the country. Now there were armed groups contending for power, the French colonialists (who just had to give up Chad as a colony in 1960 when it gained independence) rapidly lost influence and the whole country was in chaos. Until in 1982, supported by the USA and France, Hissène Habré officially became President of Chad. Violently crushing his opposition he quickly turned his reign into a dictatorship. Soon everyone who dared speak against him was persecuted and the people lived in fear of denunciation. Around 40.000 people were killed during his eight years in power. By 1984 Rose realized she could not be a part of this army any longer.
She began to smuggle information to rebel forces and to speak out against the regime, hoping to gain international attention to remove Habré from office. However on December 14th of the same year, Rose and several others were arrested by the DDS, Habré’s secret police. The arrest was painful, involving electro shocks and a fair deal of violence. They were brought to La Piscine, an underground swimming pool that had been turned into a windowless prison. Rose was seen as a real threat by the DDS as only a day later she was taken to Les Locaux in N’Djamena, a prison for notorious criminals (mostly meaning political prisoners), and instead of a women’s cell was taken to a cell to share with 60 men. Its real name was Cell C but it was known as the Cell of Death as few prisoners made it out of there alive.
Rose survived. It was in that cell that she began to encourage her fellow inmates to endure to see a world after Habré, to continue to fight for this future. As she was tortured, she would not move and being returned to the cell, she would continue to be friendly with everyone, always helping out when she was needed and never loosing her cheerful nature. After eight months she was transferred to a women’s cell, in 1985. She would be the one to unite her fellow prisoners, keeping their hopes for a better future alive. They had friends in the prison too: there were officers who were willing to pass on messages to their families, letting them know they were still alive – or how and when they died. Rose was instrumental in smuggling out those messages.
At some point, the prisoners were given soap by one of those officers and Rose had an idea. She asked her friends to keep the soap boxes intact and give them to her. It were 15 boxes in total. On them she started to write about her experiences in prison in excruciating detail. She chronicled death, burials and torture. She recounted the officers who came to see the prisoners. And she described the abuse, the torture, the beatings, the sexual assault and the deprivation of food. After running out of soap boxes, she continued to write on scraps of cigarette paper and anything else she could find. Despite all warnings of the consequences these notes would yield not only for her but for all the women in her cell, she was determined to leave evidence of the inhumane treatment she and her fellow prisoners had to endure. For one year she kept on writing in secret, hiding even from her friends.
In 1986 Rose was due to be released. However she was betrayed and word about her documentation reached Habré. Immediately her writings were confiscated and she was transferred back to Cell C. Shortly after, on May 15th, she was dragged out of her cell to be questioned. She was executed the same day, only 33 years old, and buried in a mass grave known as Plain of the Dead. However she did put up quite a fight and might even have managed to escape if only her henchmen had not underestimated her and brought more bullets – she stole their gun and wounded two of the five men before her ultimate death.
Finally in 1990, Habré was overthrown by the current President, Idriss Déby, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he was sentenced to life in prison for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his rule in a charge led by the victims of his regime. Among the documents that sealed his conviction, found in the abandoned DDS headquarters, were files on Rose Lokissim. There was proof that in the two years she was imprisoned, Rose had never faltered, never given in on her position, instead she was vocal about it and considered a true threat by the secret police, even as she was in prison. The files also contained her final words:
“If I die, it will be for my country and family.
History will talk about me and I will be thanked for my services to the Chadian nation.”
So let us talk about Rose Lokissim, a brave woman who stood up in the face of injustice and stayed true to her values, even in the darkest of times. She gave hope to those who had lost theirs and told the story of those who didn’t dare to. Remember her story and pass it on!
If you want to hear more of her story from the people who knew her, many of them fellow prisoners who survived, there is a documentary on Rose that continues her mission of showing the world what happened in Chad’s prisons in the 80s. It is fittingly titled Talking About Rose.
1: MiradasDoc, International Documentary Film Festival, Synopsis for Talking About Rose – Link
2: Screenshot from Talking About Rose, dated approx. in the 70s, Min. 15:05 – Link
3: Screenshot from the Documentary, retrieved from Afrocultureblog – Link
by Sarah Pusteblume | Feb 7, 2020 | Africa, Angola, Early Modern Period (1500 - 1750) |
It is Black History Month and I am back! This time with a heroine who ruled her country for 40 years and was incredibly successful in defending it from colonization. Her strategic knowledge, cultural wisdom, thorough education and negotiation skills make her an outstanding example of female rulership. I present to you Queen Njinga Mbande of Ndongo and Matamba.
This story begins a little before our heroine’s birth when in 1560 the Portuguese arrived on the shores of Ndongo, a country that is now called Angola. They were welcomed by the King of Ndongo, Njinga’s grandfather, who was suspicious but allowed them to stay …under close surveillance and being forbidden to leave unauthorized. The next five years the Portuguese worked on a beneficial image, teaching the population how to read and write, all the while observing the culture and estimating the country’s wealth. Finally the King made a deal with Paulo Dias de Novais, the leader of the Portuguese exploration, to enlist help in defending his land against the neighboring kingdoms. He allowed them to leave Ndongo to return with an army to help. Bad plan. In 1575 the Portuguese did indeed return with an army, however not to aid Ndongo but instead to seize it in the name of the crown. The people were caught completely off-guard, and despite fighting bravely, they couldn’t compete with the firepower of the invaders. And so the people of Ndongo were forced to retreat.
Fast forward six to eight years to the birth of our heroine. By now the Portuguese colonizers had claimed the coast of Ndongo, established the city of Luanda and renamed the country Angola. After they discovered there to be no valuable minerals, they made it their mission to make Luanda the biggest slave-trading post in all of Africa. It was in these tumultuous times that Njinga and her siblings, two sisters and a brother, grew up. When she was around ten, her grandfather died and her father became King. Njinga was his favourite and she was allowed to sit in on war meetings and other stately affairs, trained in battle and learned to read and write in Portuguese from the missionaries. Often she fought alongside her father and brother not only against the colonizers but also neighboring kingdoms. And so they lived for the next 25 years, fighting for what was left of their home and defending it the best they could.
When Njinga was around 35, in 1617, her father died and her brother Ngola Mbande succeeded him on the throne. However he neither had his father’s charisma nor his sister’s intelligence and he feared her. To make sure she would not plot against him, he had her infant son slain and her sterilized. Afraid for her life, Njinga fled to the neighboring kingdom of Matamba. With his sister gone, Ngola declared war on the Portuguese but suffered defeat after defeat. Finally five years later he gave in to his elders’ advice to send Njinga to negotiate a peace treaty. The land was ravaged by famine and the slave trade didn’t look so peachy either, so the colonizers were quite interested in peace as well. Njinga was the best choice for a negotiator, speaking fluent Portuguese and being well-versed in stately affairs. And so she set out to Luanda to speak for her people. Travelling through the country she met people who had lost their homes and families and slaves who had managed to escape. She sent them all to Ndongo, promising them safety.
Finally Njinga arrived at Luanda and for the first time she saw her ancestral land. It had been completely transformed, had become a crowded city. Not only black and white people lived there, but also their children of mixed race – something Njinga had never seen before. She also saw the slave-trading port, saw her countrymen being shipped of by the hundreds. Upon meeting with the governor, she was welcomed and given a residence for the duration of her stay.
When the time of negotiation came, Njinga found that all the governor was seated in a fancy chair while she was expected to sit on a mat on the floor in front of him. Not having any of it, Njinga motioned her maid to crouch for her to sit on her back – a gesture of power that made clear that she was not here to surrender but to negotiate on equal footing. And so it began. The Portuguese didn’t expect such a formidable opponent who spoke their language so well and thus they came to an agreement that actually benefited both sides: Ndongo was to be recognized as a sovereign state and all troops were to be called back. In return, they would be establishing trade routes with the Portuguese. Since that went so well, Njinga decided to stay a little longer and even converted to Christianity, hoping to strengthen the peace treaty even more. After staying for almost a year, she returned home.
Peace was shorter-lived than her stay at Luanda had been. In the same year the governor of Luanda was replaced and his successor didn’t care much for the treaty. He continued to raid Ndonga and the kingdom of course retaliated, Njinga fighting with her people. One year later, in 1924, King Ngola died. It is unclear how he died; if he committed suicide due to his military failures, or if his sister killed him after all. But however it happened, Njinga became Queen (after killing her nephew who could have objected her claim.) She was 43 years old.
For two more years the people of Ndongo continued to defend their home against the onslaught of the Portuguese, but in 1629 they had to retreat. Partly due to the Portuguese threat and partly because there was an opposition against a female ruler, led by other aristocrats who had their eyes on the throne as well. Njinga took her people to Matamba, where she had once sought refuge from her brother’s wrath. Now she was there to take over the kingdom and by 1630 she had established her new capital. With this new power behind her, she returned to Ndongo and claimed her crown, uniting the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba under her rule.
For more than ten years, Queen Njinga thwarted the Portuguese opposition, building alliances and cutting of trading routes, often charging into battle herself, leading her soldiers. Finally in 1641 she saw a chance to get rid of the Portuguese once and for all. The Dutch had just seized the city of Luanda and there was an opening to regain some of Ndongo’s former land. So she forged an alliance with the Dutch, moving her capital to Kavanga, which was in a territory that had been Northern Ndongo before the Portuguese arrived.
At first things looked good, Njinga scored some major victories and secured her new capital. However in 1646 an army of 20.000 Portuguese soldiers attacked the city and forced the Queen to retreat once more. With the help of her Dutch allies however she was able to come out victorious in the end only one year later.
Unfortunately it was another short-lived victory. When the Portuguese regained Luanda, Njinga’s alliship with the Dutch ended and she once more retreated to her capital in Matamba. Continuing to be a thorn in the side of the colonizers for the next 20 years, employing guerilla tactics and spies, having trenches dug around her land and stocking up on supplies to prepare for the possibility of a siege. Furthermore she made her country a safe haven for all who needed to escape the colonizers.
And so she expanded her power even over her borders until finally in 1657 the Portuguese buckled. They didn’t know what to do in the face of this elderly woman who kept messing with their plans (Njinga was around 70 years old at this time.) And so they finally renounced their claims to Ndongo once and for all.
Now that the war was over, Njinga did all that she could to rebuild her nation, resettling former slaves and using Matamba’s strategic position to make it a major trading power. All the while she kept resisting attempts to either dethrone or murder her until she died peacefully in 1663 around the age of 82. Following her death the nation briefly descended into civil war, but after things had calmed down her legacy was continued.
Today she is called “The Mother of Angola” for laying the foundations for Angola’s resistance to colonialism way into 20th century until it finally became independent. She is remembered for her brilliant leadership, not only on the battlefield but also in diplomacy and and politics. As it is with important figures, there is a street named after her, there was a series of coins and in 2002 a statue of her was unveiled in Luanda. Particularly women consider her a role model as she laid the first foundations for equal rights between the sexes. And even though she had to fight to be accepted as a ruler, her female successors did not have to do so; of the 104 years that followed her death, 80 were ruled by queens.
Until today she remains a symbol of resistance and Angolan identity.
1: “Queen Nzinga Mbande (Anna de Sousa Nzinga)” by Achille Devéria, printed by François Le Villain, published by Edward Bull, published by Edward Churton, after Unknown artist; hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s; NPG D34632 © National Portrait Gallery, London
2 – 5: from the UNESCO Series on Women in African History: “Pat Masioni” / “Njinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba” / 978-92-3-200026-2 – licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO  – Link
6: Queen Njinga’s Statue in Luanda, image from AfrikaNews – Link