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Dan Chiasson

Maintaining independence in the face of colonial encroachment, the seventeeneth-century African queen Njinga fascinated Europeans. For Sade, she was an exotic "other," a figure of insatiable sexual appetite and unspeakable savagery. Hegel saw her divergence from gender norms as proof of his claim that Africa was "outside of history." More recently, anti-colonialists have celebrated her as the mother of the modern Angolan nation. This fine biography attempts to reconcile her political acumen with the human sacrifices, infanticide, and slave trading by which she consolidated and projected power. Converting to Christianity, welcoming missionaries, and relinquishing more than forty male concubines for monogamy to emerge as expedient moves. The experiences of Njinga's subjects-enslaved, sacrificed, or dragooned into endless wars-remain sadly unrecoverable.

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Maintaining independence in the face of colonial encroachment, the seventeeneth-century African queen Njinga fascinated Europeans. For Sade, she was an exotic “other,” a figure of insatiable sexual appetite and unspeakable savagery. Hegel saw her divergence from gender norms as proof of his claim that Africa was “outside of history.” More recently, anti-colonialists have celebrated her as the mother of the modern Angolan nation. This fine biography attempts to reconcile her political acumen with the human sacrifices, infanticide, and slave trading by which she consolidated and projected power. Converting to Christianity, welcoming missionaries, and relinquishing more than forty male concubines for monogamy to emerge as expedient moves. The experiences of Njinga’s subjects-enslaved, sacrificed, or dragooned into endless wars-remain sadly unrecoverable.

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