During the medieval period, the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms (in present-day Angola) had not yet been settled by Europeans, and were continually facing invasion by their European neighbors in the North. Anna Nzinga, who would come to rule the Angola territory, was born in central Africa in 1582. She was noted as an intelligent and inquisitive young girl, determined to understand the world around her, despite that being difficult for a woman in a male-dominated society.
This did not stop her from being involved in her brother, Ngola Mbandi’s, reign as King of Ndongo. Throughout her early-adult life, Ndongo faced colonization from Portuguese settlers, and after thousands of her people had been taken prisoner in 1617, Anna was sent to negotiate a peace treaty. Despite Portugal’s refusal to acknowledge the treaty, Anna’s participation in a male-dominated part of society helped solidify her place as a powerful diplomat and politician.
Not long after this treaty, her brother committed suicide. Even now, it’s debated as to whether or not Anna poisoned him in order to seize his position, or if he did poison himself. Either way, this tenacious woman became the new sovereign of Ndongo, and true to her previous diplomatic inclinations, she once again tried to enter into peace settlements with Portugal. Hoping to both keep Portugal out of her country and to use their alliance against neighboring African aggressors, Portugal and Ndongo came to an alliance, and Anna was baptised into the Christian faith as Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande.
Portugal broke the alliance in 1626, and Anna was forced to flee to the neighboring kingdom of Matamba when fighting broke out. Taking control of Matamba, she helped create a rebellion with the people in Ndongo to depose the Portuguese. It wasn’t enough to get them out of her nation. Thus, in perhaps a moment of spite, she began to develop Matamba’s trade with the African interior, and by the time she passed away in 1661 at the age of 81, she had built her own gateway to the African continent and continued to use her homeland advantage to defy the Portuguese whenever she could.